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Tucson Weekly Horror Of Horrors

'Halloween: H2O' Updates The Slasher Genre With Some New Old Tricks.

By Polly Higgins

AUGUST 17, 1998:  BOTH AUDIENCES AND studios have demonstrated a renewed interest in the horror genre over the past couple of years, and the most recent evidence is the mid-week release of the slasher Halloween: H20, directed by Steve Miner.

The slasher subgenre in particular has been largely relegated to straight-to-video status since the mid-1980s, but it's gained new respectability and larger budgets through such successes as Scream and Scream 2 (which, combined, have grossed more than $200 million). These two films updated the slasher by self-consciously referencing the conventions established in the 1970s, most notably in the low-budget Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Halloween (1978). H20 offers its own revisions while following some of the trends of more recent slasher films. When all is said and done, however, it doesn't stray too far from its roots.

The bulk of the story takes place in the mandatory small town. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is presumed dead from a car accident after the events of Halloween 2, but has actually moved to California from Illinois and taken on the alias Keri Tate. She's the headmistress of a private school, where she lives with Skeet Ulrich stand-in/son John (Josh Hartnett). This setting helps facilitate the teen storyline, another genre convention (though notably, this is but a subplot). While John and friends are giggling about sex and stealing booze, the main narrative follows Laurie, who's in her late 30s.

The majority of slasher films are concerned with the fates of teenage girls, so this particular element of H20 illustrates the major reason why the genre has recently been successful: The widening of the target audience. Typical slasher movies very specifically address adolescent males, and this usually results in lots of teenage T&A. More recent productions attempt to broaden that audience base to include female viewers, and H20 in particular strives not only for a coed teenage audience, but an adult one as well. Sorry to disappoint, but you'll have to rent Slumber Party Massacre if you want skin.

Or you could rent the first Halloween, though Curtis remains clothed there as well. In that film she's innocent and sexually repressed, important qualifications for survival. Twenty years later she's not so sheltered, however. She's lost the feathered hair and shyness and gained a prescription drug and alcohol habit. So when Michael "pure evil" Myers (Chris Durand) comes for a visit, you don't get the usual sense of darkness invading an idyllic place that you do in the initial installment. Laurie's world is already scary--she has visions of her temperamental brother both while she's asleep and awake. This provides some satisfyingly creepy moments, as Laurie can't always discern whether Michael is physically present.

And, antisocial tendencies aside, Michael is one of the most likable features of the Halloween series. There's nothing scarier than the wrath of a child in a horror film; and Michael, despite his savvy behind the wheel of a car, is in many ways still the young boy who killed his other sister in 1963. He seems genuinely confused at times, particularly when he tilts his head to one side like a puppy. But have no sympathy--this puppy has teeth.

Plus, despite the fact that he's one of the slowest-moving monsters around, he always manages to catch up.

Given the large number of gun-obsessed movies of recent years, it's comforting to see a killer who still prefers the classic knife. Michael always did have a soft spot for cutlery, and that's not the only instance of adherence to the original film.

Other, more resonant parallels occur, such as Laurie's protection of her son and his girlfriend. This mimics her selfless concern for the boy and girl she baby-sits in Halloween. Also, the methodical Michael plans his return when John is 17, the same age Laurie was when Michael first visited her. Such narrative details deflect attention from the lack of cohesiveness of the seven-film series as a whole, such as Laurie's failure to mention her daughter, who drives the plots of Halloween IV and V.

One of the most obvious changes from the original is the budget, and, with a bigger price tag comes name-brand actors. Besides Curtis, the cast includes LL Cool J as a security guard, and Janet Leigh as Laurie's secretary. Both provide comic relief: Ronny recites his self-penned erotic fiction, and Norma stands next to the car Leigh's better-known secretary drove in Psycho as she tells the tense Laurie, "We've all had bad things happen to us."

Another subtle reference to a classic horror film includes a reenactment of the knife-throwing scene from Carrie, played out, not surprisingly, by Keri (Laurie) as she tries to fend off Michael.

But the creators of H20 (none of whom, notably, is John Carpenter) demonstrate their debt to the more recent seminal slasher series through the use of a clip from Scream 2. This consciousness of the need to update the genre, to make it relevant and sellable to new audiences, may enable horror to retain its newly appointed status of respectability beyond a few select films.

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