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!]

Army of Darkness

You can’t spell “Swashbuckling” without A-S-H. Army of Darkness is a Herculean departure from the Evil Dead series, as different from the other entries as it’s possible to be. And to purists, this will matter a great deal.

The Evil Deal was so influential, and left so many imitators choking on its afterburners that it’s hard to really place this film, a matinee action outlier, into its rightful place.

So, there’s gonna be the temptation to treat it as a stand-alone, for better or for worse.

Ash and his iconic jalopy Oldsmobile, are transported back in time to the 14th century, when the Black Plague was ravaging Europe (here, blatantly and somewhat distractingly, California. At their sunniest, the British Isles would never be this sunny).

Ash is caught between opposing factions, a medieval turf war pitting Arthur against Henry, a kind of Scottish independence nod (probably) from the Clan of Campbell.

But all Ash wants to do, is get back to modernity (1980) and naturally, he needs “THE BOOK” to teleport his ass back to the land of cocaine, pastels and Reagan-era trickle down. That book Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (Also known as ‘Book of the Dead’ and ‘Naturom Demonto’ in the original script) is appropriately, the MacGuffin. Say that with a Scots brogue.

Ash finds the book, but bungles the incantation he’s supposed to repeat, unleashing a hell-storm of demons.

In Campbell’s book, Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor, he claims that he “lost creative control of the editing and generally had a miserable time making the thing.” The finished product kinda looks like it.

Episodic, Army of Darkness has a few dynamite set-pieces, like when Lilliputian lil’ Ashes break forth from mirror, and tie down our hero before dropping one of their ranks down his gullet. Ultimately though, things tend to drag on toward the end, with knights battling skeletons and not the kind of blood and guts, full-on frights and zingers that made the first two films so inimitable.

*** (out of 5)

[Listen to our chat about Army of Darkness on the podcast!]