Halloween H20: Revisited

John Carpenter priced himself out of the production, so it was up to Friday the 13th Part II and III director Steve Miner to fill his shoes for Halloween H20.

But can anyone really fill Carpenter’s shoes?

In this update (terrible title, my god) we meet Laurie Strode again, 20 years after the Haddonfield massacre and living under an assumed name. And she’s moved to California, which is rather hilarious as there were a few unintended palm trees as well as a mountain range popping up in the supposed “Illinois town” of the first film.

Strode is still being tormented by visions of The Shape, creepy masked killer Michael Myers.

Gotta hand it to Myers. Maybe he had a private investigator? Or maybe he’s telekinetically connected to his sis. Who knows? Either way, he managed to find her and make the 2,000-mile trek out west.

Rarely can horror films be accused of being blessed with acting talent. But…There’s an embarrassment of riches here. There’s Jamie Lee Curtis (a given), but also Michelle Williams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Hartnett, Adam Arkin, and LL Cool J as well. So with a running head-start, how does this one fare?

Upon revisiting…not so well.

First off, the Hogwarts-type setting where Strode is headmistress doesn’t do it any favors.

Sense of place can make a world of difference in horror. The very best horrors have exceptional, memorable settings. Think The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or the grimy streets of Ed Koch-era New York in Maniac.

This is a humdrum stucco prep school. Dull-as-dirt.

And there are two ways to go with antagonists: either they’re the focus and you go inside their heads like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, or there’s the less-is-more mystery…what we’ve come to expect from Michael Myers. Here, he “insists himself upon you,” to paraphrase Peter Griffin’s take-down of The Godfather.

By the admittedly low standards of reboots, H20 isn’t even close to being the worst. That being said, it occupies space alongside Zombie’s Halloween as thoroughly unnecessary.

** (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast discussion of Halloween H20!]

The Ritual

We’re in the back-country, minus a backstory. At least with respect to what’s lurking in the woods.

The Ritual is both a solid effort, as well as wasted opportunity, burning out like a booster rocket after such a strong, claustrophobic, and very disquieting start.

The setup ain’t exactly reinventing the wheel, it’s that shop-worn intro we’ve seen in hundreds of horrors: a bunch of people looking for something to do on vacation. You know that never turns out well.

Here, it’s a bunch of 30-something Brits on the cusp of adulthood (some closer to the threshold than others) debating whether to do another bar piss-up in Amsterdam, or something a bit more off the beaten path: literally, as the case may be.

When one of them dies in a horrible liquor store holdup, they honor his memory by doing his travel itinerary suggestion: a hike in the wilds of Sweden. “The show must go on” as Queen sang and the crew Phil, Dom, Hutch and Luke  is off to remote Scandinavia.

These gents seem urbane, educated…you know…exactly the type who should not be venturing out into the bush. So when one of them comes up with the idea of a shortcut to get to the village quicker (or more accurately, to the village bar) they all chime in, “OK.”

Sense of place is paramount in horror. And this set up is incredible. These dark woods are creepy as all hell. As is the abandoned cabin. And what they encounter in the forest.

Director David Bruckner of V/H/S fame graces us with atmosphere that’s tough to match.

The Ritual comes up short with its antagonists though, and can’t sustain its terrific energy for the back third.

For those interested in bickering / male bonding / wilderness films, definitely check out the superior Rituals, aka “The Canadian Deliverance,” Southern Comfort, or White Raven.

*** (out of 5)