Halloween 2018 vs H2O: Two sequels, same trauma

The latest entry in the horror franchise is being hailed as a slasher movie for the #MeToo era, but an earlier sequel essentially told the same story


Warning: this article contains major plot spoilers for the film Halloween (2018).

Forty years after the release of iconic slasher film Halloween, director David Gordon Green has given us a sequel, also called Halloween. Critics like Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers have lauded it as “a slasher-movie reboot for the #MeToo era.”

As much as I love when men define #MeToo, I have to disagree. What makes Halloween (2018) a #MeToo movie? A man caused a woman trauma and she (spoiler alert) kills him at the end? Have these critics… ever seen a horror movie?

Women fighting through trauma and conquering their demons isn’t just a common horror trope – the Halloween franchise already told this exact story in the 1998 sequel Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later. Like Halloween (2018), it stars Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, who faked her own death and reinvented herself as Keri Tate, headmistress of Hillcrest Academy, which her son John (Josh Hartnett) attends and serves as the setting for most of the action.

In 1998, I was the target demographic for H2O: 14, obsessed with horror and thirsty for Josh Hartnett. As an expert, allow me to catalogue the similarities between Halloween (2018) and its underrated predecessor, H2O.

Tragic underuse of talented actors

Judy Greer and Michelle Williams are queens. Unfortunately, their brief stints in the Halloween franchise give them little to do. In H2O, Williams’s Molly is The Girlfriend to Josh Hartnett’s Son-of-Strode. Her dialogue is limited to screaming and occasionally hinting at a lower socioeconomic background compared to her rich Hillcrest classmates. Mostly we just drink in her facial expressions, which, to be fair, are brilliant – and enhanced by her over-plucked 90s eyebrows.

As Karen, daughter of Laurie Strode in Halloween (2018), Greer gets more emotional complexity. Laurie’s paranoia meant that Karen became a proficient markswoman as a youngster and spent much of her childhood in a bunker before being removed from her home by child protective services. This all sounds like rich backstory, but we only get the briefest glimpses. For the most part, Karen just tolerates a boring husband Ray (Toby Huss) and plays moderator in Laurie’s relationship with her own daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak).

A truly awful therapist

Both films feature therapists who should lose their licences. Halloween (2018) replaces the late Donald Pleasance’s character, Dr. Loomis, with Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer). Dr. Sartain has the nerve to introduce himself to Laurie as an expert on her life by saying, “I know everything about you and Michael. Everything.” He later hauls Michael’s unconscious-but-still-very-much-alive body into the back of a car, depositing him directly beside Allyson.

Laurie’s love interest in H2O is Hillcrest guidance counsellor, Will (Adam Arkin). Will seems sweet at first, assuring Laurie he can be a great listener as she alludes to her trauma. But when the two are about to get busy and Laurie begins to tell him her story, he responds to her confession that her brother murdered her sister by saying “That’s sucky” and urging her to disrobe. What a great listener!

Halloween_H2O.jpg

Dimension Films

Jamie Lee Curtis played a traumatized woman out for revenge in 1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later.

Minor characters winking at feminists in the audience

It’s important for male screenwriters to flash feminist credentials via the dialogue of minor characters. Who cares if it’s germane to the plot?

In Halloween (2018), we see a sweet adolescent boy in a car with his father, begging to not have to go hunting because he’d prefer to be dancing. This boy does not appear again. Will he follow his dream? We’ll never know.

Later, another boy – the textbook pushy Nice Guy™ – sexually assaults Allyson while walking home from a dance. When she pushes him off, he whines that he thought it was okay because she had broken up with her boyfriend. The audience at my screening’s glee was palpable when Michael impales him on a wrought-iron fence.

H2O’s school security guard Ronny (LL Cool J) moonlights as a romance novelist. As he reads his novel aloud to his partner over the phone, she mocks him for referring to the woman character’s “two tumultuous, round, melon breasts.” I’m not just here for the mockery – Ronny takes the note! Later, while reading his partner a line of dialogue from the man in his novel, the woman character responds, “You don’t expect me to fall for that shit, do you?” Ronny’s partner cackles and says, “That’s right, make her smart!” And all was right with the world.

The message that trauma fucks you up

The main connecting thread between H2O and Halloween (2018) is the influence of Laurie’s trauma on her present-day life. (It’s a theme Curtis drew attention to at the film’s TIFF premiere in September.) Laurie struggles with alcoholism in both films. In the former, she guzzles chardonnay midday and chugs full glasses of vodka in the evening, while in the latter she arrives late to a dinner party and immediately bogarts her son-in-law’s glass of red wine before she’s even sat down.

Her children in both films complain about the ripple effects of their mother’s trauma. Halloween (2018)’s Karen rarely sees her mother because of Laurie’s hair-trigger sensitivities, and H2O’s John has to beg his overprotective mother to let him go on a class trip. Both express sympathy for their mom, but stress how the traumatic events took place years ago, and she must move on or risk permanently damaging family relationships.

Both films see Laurie take her power back by killing her murderous brother. But you tell me which is more satisfying: locking him in a basement and setting it on fire in Halloween (2018)? Or stalking the school campus, axe in hand, screaming Michael’s name until she finds him, loads him into an ambulance, crashes it, pins him against a tree and touches his fingers for a brief moment before chopping his head off in H2O?

In my professional opinion, there’s no contest. H2O and Halloween (2018) are essentially the same movie, but the first one did it better. Don’t @ me!

Steph Guthrie is a co-founder of the screening series Drunk Feminist Films. The next one screens I Know What You Did Last Summer on Wednesday (October 24) at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema (506 Bloor West). Guthrie also co-directed It Was Me, the award-winning interactive companion to the documentary feature A Better Man.

movies@nowtoronto.com | @DrunkFemFilms

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