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She's baaack in Halloween H20

By Ray Pride

AUGUST 3, 1998:  When John Carpenter jumped out of the dark and shouted "Boo!" with "Halloween" in 1979, he accomplished several important things. Besides establishing himself (however briefly) as a director to reckon with, like his beloved Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock, he and his partner Debra Hill started what we know today as the independent film scene.

A $300,000 budget bequeathed several fortunes, grossing many times its investment and inspiring sequels and many other filmmakers. "Halloween H20," the twentieth-anniversary sequel, which director Steve Miner deadpans is "the only sequel - what other films?" is a tribute: by executive producer Kevin Williamson, whose "Scream" series was inspired by the first movie; by star Jamie Lee Curtis, who always felt Laurie Strode had never gotten her face-to-face closure with the terror of Haddonfield; and most importantly, by Miramax's Dimension Pictures, which probably would not exist if it were not for "Halloween" breaking ground so many years ago.

The original "Halloween" was a delight on multiple levels beyond fright. Carpenter's knowing references to his forebears were a treat for budding cinephiles. His use of pacing, and his elegant, agile widescreen framing, gliding along with one of the earliest effective uses of the Steadicam system, kept the nerves on edge throughout. (Carpenter's synthesizer score still haunts.)

"Halloween H20" is a simpler thing, a relentless eighty-one-minute catharsis for its lead character, urged on by a pounding score by John Ottman ("The Usual Suspects"). Williamson and Curtis had spoken about a sequel that would allow Laurie to confront the Shape - her brother, Michael Myers - and rid herself of her nightmares forever. What kind of pain would a woman as traumatized as Laurie feel all those years, Curtis wondered, even as she was dubbed the "scream queen" for the past two decades. In "H20," Laurie is now a teacher at an exclusive private school, with a son just turned 17. She's a functioning alcoholic with a history of trashed relationships. Williamson worked with Miner as a director on his "Dawson's Creek" teen television soap, and the elements soon congealed: The hand behind "Friday the 13th" parts two and three, who had since domesticated himself as a career series director, would join with the modern horror adept, Williamson, and allow Laurie Strode to move beyond madness.

Curtis is such a fervent storyteller, it's a wonder she hasn't become a screenwriter or producer in the years since becoming a kind of star. "I boiled down why I wanted to revisit the story," the hyper 39-year-old actress, mother and children's book author says. "Twenty years is just an impossible amount of time. Twenty years. More time has passed since 'Halloween' than I'd lived on the planet before 'Halloween.' That's just insane. It couldn't go by unnoticed. It seemed like an opportunity that I would regret if I missed it. Think of going to a movie theater and watch a double bill of 'Halloween' and 'H20.' How great would that be? Then there's an opportunity on a personal level to say thank you to a group of people that truly gave me everything I have. My career is all attributable to my horror movies."

The fast-talking daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh shares the energy level of both of her famously intense parents. "It's also my way of saying thank you to my audience, that fan base, 'This one's for you, y'know?' And I hate horror movies. I thought we had the opportunity to be realistic and show the horror of horror movies. Show the result of the horror. Here is a chance to show that this girl is supposedly a survivor, but in fact, she is not a survivor. Because she has no soul. That was what was ripped from her - her ability to trust, to love. Even though she has done everything a woman is supposed to do to make you happy - she's gone to college, she's gotten the degree, she gets married and has a child, the four corners of kinda womanhood. But she's empty. She's a wreck. "If you set that up, and you really pay homage to that reality and you don't shy from it, you don't go, 'Y'know, people aren't going to stick around for this [pain],' and then you create an opportunity for her to escape. But ultimately by running, she'll die, she'll blow her brains out in a year or she'll get in a car wreck. But if she stops running and turns around and faces him head-on, face-to-face, mano-a-mano, to the death, she may die physically, but she gets her soul back. Now that is a long-winded and slightly lofty goal for a horror movie, if you can pull that off? You have a movie that's commensurate to the first movie. This was my pitch over and over and over. I didn't care where they set it, I didn't care about the other characters and their interplay, the focus was Laurie Strode and her struggle."

Curtis is convinced she and her collaborators have pulled it off. "'Field of Screams.' If you build it, they will come." While her next project is another horror entry, an "Alien" riff called "Virus," she is content with her own work and philosophy. "I was doing an interview for a magazine at a hotel and there was a little card on the table that I thought said, 'Please refrain from sucking.' I thought, what a great way to go about your career! It should be the name of my autobiography. It was 'smoking,' but what a great metaphor for what my objective is!"

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