The new Halloween movie almost tops Halloween H20

(warning: splattered with plot spoilers)

“Forty years ago, he came to my home to kill. He killed my friends, and now he’s back to finish what he started.”

The latest Halloween movie is a twisted triumph, dominating the US box office to take $77.5m in its opening weekend.

The stubbornly silent and seemingly unstoppable Michael Myers (Nick Castle) slashes his way back into suburbia to ensure final girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is finally dead. But this time she’s ready for him.

It’s a beautifully realised fright fest that throws you out into the dark, buries you in mist then leaves you to wonder: what’s that breathing, whose blood is that? It wrongfoots us constantly as significant characters are left in pieces on the bedroom floor or stashed broken into cupboards, male leads giving way to something far less expected.

As Officer Hawkins (Will Patton) says: “There’s a reason we’re supposed to be afraid of this night.”

Director David Gordon Green ignores the slew of sequels to 1978’s original Halloween, imagining instead that Michael has been safely incarcerated since the end of the first movie. This is a wise move, cutting the franchise free of a tangled mythology spun out over no fewer than 10 previous Halloween movies.

But this undermines the significant contribution to the series made by 1998’s Halloween H20. And that’s a bloody shame.

“There’s a little backstory that I haven’t been completely successful with.”

It’s a very hazy autumn evening in northern California and in Halloween H20 Laurie Strode considers telling her new boyfriend about her gory past. Having spent the past 20 years being hunted by Michael (in this version of events the masked murderer is her brother), Laurie has a sneaky suspicion he’s going to try again tonight. But rather than going into all that, she orders another Chardonnay.

Halloween H20 has it all. Curtis is perfect as the haunted heroine, steeling herself for the return of the killer with “the blackest eyes” in horror.

H20 came hot on the heels of the Scream movies, whose exhilarating postmodern take on the slasher flick revitalised horror in the late 90s. H20 director Steve Miner honours the franchise here, working with Scream writer Kevin Williamson as co-executive producer and making sure a scene from Scream 2 flickers away in the background.

But back to H20. Its deliciously slow build to Laurie’s bloody reunion with Michael is both confident and tantalising, with enough shock jumps to excite even the most jaded fanboy.

Josh Hartnett makes an assured screen debut as Laurie’s teenage son John while Michelle Williams, LL Cool J and Adam Arkin give suitably lascivious support. Everyone in H20 is on heat, and we all know Michael won’t approve of that.

Nancy Stephens makes a welcome return as Nurse Marion (“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that second-hand smoke kills?” “Yeah — but they’re all dead.”) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a have-a-go hero with a hockey stick. Then Curtis’ real life mum Janet Leigh pulls up in her 1957 Ford Sedan from Psycho and threatens to outshine them all. “Happy Halloween,” indeed.

But what transforms H20 from a good movie into a chilling masterpiece is its climax.

Having lectured the teenagers on the themes of Frankenstein, Laurie is finally able to confront her own monster. Unlike the latest Halloween movie, it takes Laurie most of H20 to decide to fight back — but when she does, she does it in style. Armed with a giant pickaxe, she strides back into the bloodbath and lops Michael’s head clean off.

Having tried every form of therapy, every brand of medication, Laurie concludes that sometimes the direct approach works best. The latest Halloween movie definitely takes this to heart.

H20 is dreamlike, surprising, horrific and empowering — I love this film. And all in just over 80 minutes.

If the new movie makes you want to revisit the Halloween franchise, all you really need is the 1978 original and H20. Clearly the best Halloweens come round once every 20 years.

  • Halloween (2018) is in cinemas now. Halloween H20 is still going strong on Netflix.

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Tom Bishop

Hackney, east London; has written for BBC News website, Gay Times, Diva & Attitude.