Friday, October 14, 2011

Blu-ray Review: HALLOWEEN H20: Twenty Years Later (1998)

LABEL: Echo Bridge Entertainment
DURATION: 85 mins
VIDEO: 16:9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
AUDIO: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo
DIRECTOR: Steve Miner
CAST: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, LL Cool J, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Adam Hann-Byrd
TAGLINE: True Terror Never Dies!

A few years before one-time scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis (HALLOWEEN, ROAD TRIP) started slinging adverts for Activia Yogurt - the cultured bacteria food stuff that makes you shit right - she returned to the HALLOWEEN franchise for it's twentieth anniversary. Why? I dunno. Maybe with passing of Donald Pleasance the series needed someone to carry the torch and not wanting to continue on with the Cult of Thorn - Tommy Dolyle storyline from HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYER'S the producers instead chose to ignore the continuity of every sequel after John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN and make this direct sequel to the first.

I'll let the cat outta the bag early and say I really dislike this film, but before I let into why let me just say that it has a pretty great opener that falsely raised my hopes. Dr. Loomis's one-time colleague Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens, HALLOWEEN, HALLOWEEN II), the nurse from the original HALLOWEEN, returns home to find that someone has broken into her home through the front door. Alarmed she runs next door to the neighbors home where wise-ass teen Jimmy (Joseph Gordon-Levit, INCEPTION) answers the door wearing a hockey mask which startles her. It the first of maybe 150 jump scares in the film among perhaps as many references to other better fright flicks, there's a lot of 'em. Jimmy volunteers to check out the house against Marion's wishes and enters with hockey stick in hand boasting in the third person "Jimmy's been suspended five times this year already for gettin' a little crazy with the stick." He searches the home but doesn't find anyone inside but he does fuck up the kitchen with his hockey stick when he gets spooked while swiping some beers, which he blames on the intruder. With the authorities on their way Marion enters the home to inspect the damage. It's here that we gather she was a caregiver for the ailing Loomis until his natural death, one of the rooms is plastered with clippings about the Haddonfield murders  20 years earlier. In her office she finds that files pertaining to Laurie Strode are missing, Laurie being Myers' sister who survived the attack years earlier. When Marion realizes that someone is in the house with her she makes a panicked run for Jimmy's house and lets herself in when there is no answer only to find the teen in a sofa chair with is hockey skate impaled into his face, his friend is also dead and as Marion sees the police arrive next door she rushes to the window to scream for help but Myers slashes her throat. Seconds later the responding officers notice the neighbors broken window and enter the house as Myers pulls out of the drive way in a car in pursuit of Laurie.

Two days later we're in Northern California, and it's Halloween. We learn that Laurie Strode faked her death some years earlier and is now known as Keri Tate, the head mistress of the Hillcrest Academy High School, and mother of teen John (Josh Hartnett, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES). The events from twenty year prior still haunt her and she's troubled by disturbing dreams. Even after all these years she's convinced that Michael still lives and will one day return to finish what he started, sure enough tonight's the night.

Laurie tries to put her fears aside and plans to spend the weekend with boyfriend Will (Adam Arkin, UNDER THE RAINBOW) while the student body leave on a field trip to Yosemite but Laurie's son John and his girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams, SPECIES) along with his best friend Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd, THE ICE STORM) and his love interest Sarah (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, THE CROW: SALVATION) play hooky, skipping out on the trip and holing up in a dormitory on campus to celebrate Halloween with a little drinking and partying. Also on campus is the poetry spouting school security guard Ronnie (LL Cool J, DEEP BLUE SEA).

With the campus pretty much empty Michael Myers arrives on scene having sleuthed Laurie's current whereabouts. Inside Laurie and Will are drinking wine and preparing for some frisky business when she reveals her dark past to him while at the same time the teens get to partying but as ever Michael shows up and the killings begins anew.

The story is economical, it's simplicity in itself and the basic storyline ain't half bad if you don't mind them ignoring HALLOWEEN 2-6 - which I kinda do. That aside this feels less like a HALLOWEEN film than any that have come before it. There's zero atmosphere, the night scenes are overlit, most of the deaths are weak or happen just offscreen. Jamie Lee Curtis, the iconic scream queen from John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN, offers a decent performance but is not likable as the haunted survivor of her brother's killing spree, and bares little resemblance to the teen version of herself. However, when it's time for Strode to face-off against Michael she's doesn't so much channel her inner scream queen as she does a variation on Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in ALIEN, she's quite the ass kicker.

Josh Hartnett as Strode's son John is pretty wooden (when isn't he?) and I think his best roles (VIRGIN SUICIDES being my favorite) are tailor made to compliment his stiff acting style but as a brooding teen he's just annoying. I rather enjoyed LL Cool J as Ronnie the security guard, it's a bit part with a thankless death but I dig LL in small roles like we see here and in DEEP BLUE SEA. The standout performance of the film comes from a young Joseph Gordon-Levit in a brief but enjoyable bit part, if the film could have maintained the spirit of the pre-credit sequence we could have had something special but the film's post-SCREAM 90's sensibilities and Steve Miner's flat direction really go nowhere.

DVD: Echo Bridge's Blu-ray of H20 presents the film in re-framed 16:9 widescreen (1.78:1) which is quite a departure from it's original "scope" (2.35:1) presentation. Honestly, Steve Miner and cinematographer Daryn Okada don't make great use of the scope aspect ratio here but I'm a stickler for presenting film on DVD/BD in their OAR and I think it's disappointing that EB have opted to go the 1.78:1 route. Aside from the re-frame there's black crush, colors seems muted and the the1080p boost in resolution only marginally improves fine detail and texture. The 1080i transfer of THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS is noticeably superior on pretty much every level to what we have here.

The DTS-HA MA 2.0 Stereo  audio is a downgrade from the previous Dimension Collector's Series DVD from a few years back that sported a not only a 16:9 (2.35:1) transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound but subtitles and a small selection of extras, none of which we have here. While the DTS-HD MA 2.0 is adequate it is little else. Dialogue, effects and score come through clean and strong but it's not very dynamic and there's minimal use of the stereo directionals, it seemed very center heavy.

There's no special features, no subtitles, not even a trailer which I consider to be the bare essential, at least give us a trailer, c'mon now. The Dimension Collector's Series was pretty slim on features but at least offered an 18 minute featurette, lame trivia game and a Creed music video. Actually, I'm kind of thankful that we don't get the Creed video but not porting over something from the DVD release is quite disappointing. The transfer being what it is (re-framed) and the audio not much better (DTS-HD Stereo) at least throw us a bone with some features. EB's DEAD MAN BD is the only title I've reviewed thus far that ports features from the previous DVD incarnation.

VERDICT: As a continuation of the HALLOWEEN franchise I find H20 to be an utter and complete failure of a film. It has no personality, a complete lack of atmosphere and is definitely a product of the post-SCREAM 90's with an irritating script and a sterile, super-polished look about it. The kills are mostly lame, many of which happen just off screen and the jump scares are completely out of hand. I know this film has a devout following, which puzzles me,  but I can't recommend it as a first-time watch or even as an HD upgrade for fans when there are just so many better films worth your time and money, including HALLOWEEN 1-6. The 90's slasher resurgence is much maligned and not without reason, and H20 is prime example of why.