Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion) — ‘Halloween H20: 20 Years Later’

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

Most folks, myself included, go to certain movies around the holidays. However, my favorite holiday of Halloween did not gain a film that genuinely celebrated it until 1978’s Halloween. John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick is rightfully considered one of the best horror movies ever made. It gave us an icon of modern horror in Michael Myers. More than that though, it created a franchise that spanned 11 movies, 4 continuities, and 40 years With the upcoming 11th entry, Blumhouse’s Halloween, set to be released on October 19th, I’ll take a look back at the Halloween franchise. In doing so, I’ll trace precisely how one of the most convoluted movie franchises in history got to the already divisive entry and why we need it. What happens to a classic franchise in a post-’Scream’ era? Halloween H20: 20 Years Later answers that question!

For most of the 1990s, horror was dead. Sure, all the big slasher franchises had entries, with Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) included among them. However, even the franchise favorites had tired audiences by this point. The fact of the matter is that with a few outliers the horror genre needed the filmic equivalent of a blood transfusion. That new blood came in the form of the Kevin Williamson written, Wes Craven directed Scream (1996). A slasher film that deconstructed the subgenre it was a part of in a meta and humorous way; while still managing to be intelligent and scary. Scream also proved the single-handedly revived the horror genre and slashers in particular.

As a result of the slasher genre’s  revival many new franchises were born. For a minute there, silent killers were once again cutting up the silver screen. However, that didn’t mean there wasn’t room for old franchises of this subgenre. Thus, it’s no surprise that Dimension Films and The Weinsteins, the folks who reaped the benefits of Scream, wanted to utilize the other big slasher series they had in their library. Thus, Halloween 7 was born; but not under the circumstances you might expect.

Initially, this sequel was not meant to have any considerable fanfare. To the contrary, Halloween 7 was to be nothing more than a direct-to-video cash-in of a flick. One which screenwriter Robert Zappia was tasked with penning. Gone were the Cult of Thorn and The Man in Black. His (Zappia’s) original script involved an all-girls school and a Michael Myers copycat killer. Zappia described this early draft as Halloween (1978) meets The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
However, things rapidly changed when Bob Weinstein approached Jamie Lee Curtis to star in the film. To everyone’s surprise, the actress accepted the offer to appear in what would be her first horror picture since Halloween II (1981). Thus, Halloween 7 was bolstered-up to being a big, theatrical, Summer release. Depending on what you read and believe, this movie was either a passion project or a paycheck gig. At the time though, it was entirely presented as the former. Realizing that the original Halloween was coming up on its 20th anniversary; Curtis suggested an idea that changed the course of this entry.

She (Curtis) proposed the idea of bringing the series’ creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill on board to respectively direct and produce what was now called Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998). The three of them had lunch, and all sparked to the idea of a reunion picture. Meanwhile, Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg were redrafting that original script to account for the inclusion of Laurie Strode. The most significant changes included axing the copycat killer and making the school a coed institution. Sadly, there was a bump in the road; after experiencing creative differences with Dimension Films, Carpenter and Hill stepped away from the project. Of course, it didn’t help that the Weinsteins refused to grant Carpenter his requested $10 million salary. The figure Carpenter felt he had earned from creating this franchise.

And then there was one as Curtis remained interested in H20. She soon found herself on the set of Dawson’s Creek (1998-2003) where Steve Miner, who had directed Curtis in Forever Young (1992); was helming an episode of this TV series. Curtis asked Miner if he would be interested in directing H20 and he was. A logical decision considering Miner had also helmed Friday the 13th: Part II (1981) and its follow up, Friday the 13th: Part 3-D (1982). However, the idea of H20 also got the attention of then golden boy Kevin Williamson. The hot screenwriter immediately agreed to take a look at the current script and write his treatment on the general ideas within it.

Williamson’s original treatment for H20 took all the sequels into account. However, Miner as the director was adamant about not wanting to acknowledge any sequels beyond Halloween II (1981). Let’s take a moment and talk about this choice, shall we? H20 only recognizes Halloween (1978) and Halloween II (1981) as part of its continuity. A decision which creates four, if arguably not more continuities in this franchise. Let’s break it down:

Continuity Line 1:
Halloween (1978)
Halloween II (1981)
Continuity Line 2:
Halloween III: Season Of The Witch  (1981)
Continuity Line 3:
Halloween (1978)
Halloween II (1981)
Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers (1988)
Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers  (1989)
Halloween 6: The Curse Of Michael Myers (1995)
Continuity Line 4:
Halloween (1978)
Halloween II (1981)
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

A bit confusing, right? Mind you, these continuities are not even the last ones will touch on, but more on that later in the franchise!

In any event, the film in review picks up 20 years after that fateful night in Haddonfield, Illinois.  A traumatized Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is now living under her assumed identity as Keri Tate. In her new life, Lauri is the headmistress and instructor at a private prep school in Northern California, far from her roots.

Here, Laurie keeps a watchful, albeit, paranoid eye on her son John (Josh Hartnett), who also attends the school. It’s going to be a quiet Halloween night as the majority of the students have abandoned the campus for a weekend field trip. That is, except for John and a few of his friends. On this night Laurie’s worst fears will come to pass as her brother, Michael Myers (Chris Durand) returns to finish what he started all those years ago. But this time, Laurie will fight back!

Halloween H20 will always hold a special place in my horror-loving heart. It was the first Halloween film to which I had any exposure. I distinctly remember talking about it at my elementary school lunch table. Sadly, unlike some kids I went to school with I was not allowed to watch R-rated movies. Come to think of it, these friends of mine probably weren’t either. For example, I remember a friend of mine named Jamie saying, “In H20, you see Michael Myers’ eyes, and they’re RED!” That was a blatant elementary school fib, dear readers. For unless you’re watching the yet-to-be-realized Jay and Silent Bob Smoke Halloween, Michael isn’t going to have red eyes!

Even so, I would spend H20’s home video release window repeatedly watching the trailer for it on The TV Guide Channel. I was obsessed with movies and had slight OCD as a kid. What do you want from me? A few years later, I finally got around to watching H20. And, at the time it lived up to all the hype! Sadly, I can’t say the same 20 years after the fact. Fun fact fellow 90s kids, sometimes you can’t quite go home again.

Still, there’s plenty that H20 does right. Firstly, it’s one of the better-made films in the series; especially when you take the previous three sequels into account. By that same token though, Steve Miner is merely a workmanlike director; particularly when paying tribute to what Carpenter previously did. If there’s one thing that’s perfect in this film, it’s Jamie Lee Curtis. She delivers a performance that has passion, heart and a little bit of rage for good measure. It’s as if she never left Laurie Strode behind. The supporting cast here is also excellent. Providing us the audience with likable characters, some of who become victims.

Alas, two decades on H20 also has some issues. As with many of these previous sequels, Michael isn’t as scary as he could be. In my opinion, stuntman Chris Durand’s approach to Michael is all wrong. Durand said he played by Michael “Like a big cat.” While that seems interesting, Durand’s portrayal as Michael comes across as awkward. Not that he’s given any help by the multitude of bad masks he has to wear in this film.

Aside from Michael himself, the pacing of this movie is also a bit of an issue. Despite following the original Halloween’s timing to a tee, H20 feels slow and is quite light on the body count. This movie’s most glaring problem though is that it comes from a place of being the imitated to the imitator. In other words, H20 (like many other slashers of its day), feels a bit like a Scream clone. A quality which is only amplified by the dialogue polish Williamson did on the film’s script.

Despite its issues though, I still find Halloween H20 to be a very watchable and entertaining, albeit dated picture. More importantly, H20 is what it set out to be. That being an end to the Strode/Myers storyline, and it was a damn good ending at that. By successfully, though not fully executing its intentions, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later is a Franchise Expansion! The film concludes the story that spawned the entire franchise. While at the same time opening it up for further installments!

Twenty years later, H20 is still having an impact. While I’m not the first person to say this it seems as if the film in review was an inspiration, if not a dry run for the upcoming Halloween (2018). In fact, the forthcoming installment seems to be lifting quite a bit from H20. Such as, oh, I don’t know cleaning up lines of continuity and making Laurie a bad-ass. Thus, it saddened me to hear Curtis say in a recent interview that she was “Was unhappy with H20.” Or that she “Took H20 for the paycheck.” Despite what Curtis says about H20 film while promoting to the new one, I can’t help but cry foul. Her quotes merely seem like an actress doing her thing on the promo circuit.

Still, it will be just a bit before we get to Halloween (2018). Before that or Rob Zombie’s interpretation of the mythos, I’ll examine the final entry in the “original” franchise- Halloween: Resurrection (2002)!

In the meantime, you can also treat yourself to the other Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion) Reviews in the Halloween series-
Halloween (1978):

Halloween II (1981):

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982):

Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers (1988):

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989):

Halloween 6: The Curse Of Michael Myers (1995):

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