The Final Girls Club is a bi-weekly column. It aims to take an analytical and retrospective look at female-led horror cinema and how these films hold up in the context of current issues surrounding gender, sexuality and politics.
The 1990’s were an interesting time for slasher films. The sub-genre was pretty much stagnant in the early 90s due to an over-saturation of them in the decade prior. New Line Cinema were killing the iconic Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger due to diminishing Box Office returns. The Scream franchise had essentially turned what was once a terrifying dominant sub-genre of horror into a party joke. The slasher in the 90’s —for lack of better words, was like many of its on-screen victims from the previous decade: dead.
Then 1998 happened. It was the 20th anniversary of John Carpenter’s seminal masterpiece that popularised the slasher craze of the 80s: Halloween. To celebrate the anniversary, another addition to the franchise was put into production, only it wouldn’t be your average sequel. Heavily hyped up to be a return to the terrifying slashers of yesteryear, the next film in the series would attempt this by going back to the basic ingredients of the legendary first film all while pushing it in a new direction.
Titled Halloween H20: 20 years later, the series decided to bring back Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, the heroine from the first two films in the series. In another risk, H20 also decides to ignore Halloween 3-6 and set up its own continuity providing a strong starting point for fans to return to the franchise. Originally the plan was to also bring back original director John Carpenter as well but the parties involved could not reach an agreement— this was a move to win over people who ditched the franchise long ago.
In the film we pick up 20 years after the ending of Halloween II, when Michael Myers was seemingly killed along with his psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Laurie has moved on to California with a new identity by the name of Keri Tate, where she’s the headmistress of a prestigious boarding school. Haunted by a past she can’t seem to escape, the titular holiday is a yearly reminder of the suffering she endured at the hands of her brother. Her son John (Josh Hartnett) has a strained relationship with his mother over her inability to let go of the past and move forward because of the trauma she faced that fateful night in 1978. “Michael Myers is dead,” he constantly reminds her. She has also turned to medication and alcohol to help her cope with her constant fears of Michael returning to exact his revenge.
As the school leaves for their yearly trip to Yosemite with a few stragglers left behind— including John and his friends, a visitor arrives. Michael Myers, alive and in the flesh. This time though, Laurie decides to act. Not for just her sake but to protect her son, her family, her life. Halloween H20 features a character we once thought broken and hopeless go through a paradigm shift in personality. Gone is the victim we got used to seeing in slasher films in the past 20 years and in their place, a survivor turned warrior set to take back what’s hers: her life. Throughout the film Laurie is constantly forced to quite literally face her aggressor and traumas head on through a series of callbacks and similar situations to those of the events of the original 1978 film. It’s immensely satisfying to see her fight Michael head on and get violent with someone who has terrorised her mentally and physically for 20 years at this point.
The film climaxes with a face to face confrontation with Michael. A victim with their abuser in what might be one of the most satisfying payoffs in a horror film ever. Michael pinned up against an ambulance after a brutal accident, helpless and in pain. With one final moment he attempts to reach out to his sister in an attempt to get her to show weakness and save him. For a brief moment the audience is led to believe that she’s about to give in. That all goes away when Laurie picks up an axe and slashes Michael’s head clean off. Free of her past pain, Laurie walks away into the night and into the rest of her life. Truly a display in cathartic release for our lead character, Laurie walks away free to continue to move forward with her life.
Though a tad undermined by the existence of a sequel and some questionable creative choices, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later is one of those rare slasher films that provides a light at the end of the tunnel of past traumas. At its core it is about a woman taking a stand and taking back her life and all that’s hers. Almost acting as a prototype for the 2018 film Halloween, HalloweenH20 will always stick with me as one of the very few horror sequels that doesn’t completely victimise a survivor, instead empowering them and making them the star of the show. In light of the recent #MeToo movement and the empowering of victims from their abusers it’s concept I would love to continue to be explored in the horror genre moving forward.
by Reyna Cervantes
Categories: The Final Girls Club