Sibling Rivalry: Familial Trauma in ‘Halloween H20’

It would be underselling it to say that Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers had had a troubled production, considering that a huge portion of the movie had to be famously reshot. When the movie did not gross anything near what the studio had hoped, it left the future of the franchise uncertain. Doubly so, in fact, considering the way Dimension pivoted to video in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. In that time, many of its once theatrical franchises began to spawn direct-to-video sequels. Children of the Corn, The Prophecy, Mimic, The Crow, From Dusk Till Dawn, Dracula 2000, it seemed almost inevitable at a certain point that unless something was a runaway hit, it would be destined to have one if not many sequels that would bypass theaters entirely. Even the Hellraiser franchise had, after four theatrical movies, gone straight-to-video under Dimension. It’s a miracle, considering that The Curse of Michael Myers had been about as successful as films like Hellraiser: Bloodline and The Crow: City of Angels, that the sixth movie had not sent the franchise direct-to-video, especially considering how ready Dimension seemed to jump that gun. 

But it very nearly did. There were three years between The Curse of Michael Myers and Halloween H20 and for a good chunk of that development, the next Halloween was going to go straight-to-video. It had been written for it. According to screenwriter Robert Zappia, it had seemed like an absolute certainty. This straight-to-video approach to Halloween would have felt, unsurprisingly, like most Dimension video sequels. Only loosely connected to anything that had come before, it would have been a standalone movie set at a secluded private school about a killer impersonating Michael Myers only to have the real Michael Myers show up in the middle of their copycat massacre. As someone who admittedly likes my share of the straight-to-video crop of Dimension sequels, it could have been interesting. But as a fan of the franchise I am so grateful for what we got instead. 

Most people don’t understand how much Jamie Lee Curtis saved the franchise with her decision to return to it. It was her idea to do a 20th anniversary movie, reuniting as many people as possible. With that decision, based on her star power alone, a film that was set for a direct-to-video fate now absolutely would not be doing that. Curtis also opened the door for more genre star power, with Scream heavyweight Kevin Williamson coming in to provide the initial treatment for how to bring Laurie Strode back to a series that had explicitly killed her off. 

Now, more than ever, I think Halloween H20 runs the risk of being considered a disposable sequel. While it was both a critical and commercial success at the time, it’s not often spoken of as a fan-favorite entry in the series. And after the 2018 movie, I think a good many fans feel as though H20 has been replaced. But I think, if anything, that the two films compliment each other in spectacular, often fascinating ways. While they are both about the very specific idea of Laurie Strode attempting to overcome the trauma of that original Halloween night, they are almost amazingly about incredibly different things. That all stems from what each respective sequel picks and chooses in terms of continuity. 

After all, the 2018 movie is a sequel to only the original and is therefore about Laurie dealing with the fact that a man she did not know—she presumably didn’t even know it was Michael Myers until after that night—attacked her for apparently no reason at all. The randomness feeds her paranoia, her turn toward survivalism, as it introduces Laurie to a world where any horrible thing can happen to anyone at any time, without warning and without reason. It’s not something the girl in the first film ever seemed to consider, but not something she could step back from the realization of either, so that forty years later it is all she thinks about. 

It’s that one change in the story that gives us an incredibly different Laurie—with a few admitted similarities—to the one we’re treated to in H20. Her circumstances are different, but no less valid, because H20 is about something incredibly different than the 2018 film. This twenty-year anniversary sequel is not about recovering from random, chaotic trauma. It’s about familial trauma. 

This Laurie has left Haddonfield completely behind her, because all it really ever did was lie to her. Her parents were seemingly nice in the one and only glimpse we ever saw of her adoptive dad. The Laurie of H20 not only had to live through the events of both Halloween and Halloween II and the trauma of Michael’s attack on her, she also had to learn she was adopted, learn that the man trying to kill her was the brother she was apparently being protected from, and learn that she had an older sister who had been killed—a story that she, like everyone in town, knew by heart without ever learning of her connection to it. When we meet Laurie in H20, she is living under the identity of Keri Tate, effectively her third identity after Laurie Strode and whatever name she had had as an infant in the Myers household. Much unlike the Laurie of the 2018 movie, she is surrounded by people and at first glance has a great life. She’s got a job as the headmistress of a secluded private school, she has a smartass but loving teenage son and an office romance with the guidance counselor. And despite so much in her life that should be going right, she is still barely coping. 

Nothing has happened to her since that initial attack in 1978, but she still has nightmares about the shape, she’s got a drinking problem that she does her best to hide from everyone but her son. Laurie’s a mess even though she is constantly told to move on by the only person who she can share any of this with. That is another fundamental difference to Blumhouse’s Halloween. In that, even the local teens know Laurie as the survivor of that random encounter forty years ago. In H20, not only is Laurie barely coping, but she is forced to keep it bottled up because rather than being stuck in that moment and entrenched in nothing but the drive to keep it from happening again, she is doing everything she can to avoid it. She’s running from it. She’s drinking to forget what happened and it only ever seems to make her remember it more. With her new identity, her son John is the only person she can speak about any of this with and that creates no small amount of trauma for him as well. 

John is much more aloof and sarcastic about the fact that there’s a mass murderer in the family, but that honestly just seems to be because he needs to be more sarcastic about it. His mother struggles with it so badly that at the age of seventeen, John is already basically taking care of her. He’s never met Michael, he’s only ever heard his mother’s stories, but it’s her inability to deal, to cope with any of that which really defines John throughout the film. While a far cry from the child services situation of the 2018 sequel, John is still a minor who seems well aware of the fact that he should not be tasked with taking care of her and cannot be the crutch she needs to support herself through this. The relationship between the two of them is honestly one of H20’s greatest strengths. Laurie is nowhere near abusive toward him. Depending on the moment, she’s either a helicopter parent or half-present at best and it’s the unpredictability of that that appears to weigh on John the heaviest. 

From the moment Laurie is re-introduced, we’re clearly setting up a confrontation, which makes sense, as bringing Laurie face-to-face with Michael once again is the one thing that the entire movie was marketed around. It also feels incredibly organic to the story this sequel is trying to tell. Laurie is defined by avoiding the problem, drinking to forget with almost hilariously bad results as she’s still seeing Michael out of the corner of her eye every five minutes. Nothing she does works. No matter how hard she tries to forget, she can’t. And after years of bending over backwards for her, it is finally pushing her relationship with her son to the breaking point. The only way Laurie is ever going to even have the slightest chance of recovery is by forcing herself to confront Michael one last time. 

Then, of course, we have the Michael of it all. This version of Michael is almost a happy medium between the shape presented in the original movie and the bloodline stalker of the preceding sequels. He is still very much after his own family members, but with Curse of Michael Myers no longer a part of this continuity, we don’t know why. We really know nothing other than “he wants his sister dead.” What’s also fascinating about this portrayal of Michael—which is admittedly largely thanks to the wide-eyed Stan Winston mask—is that there’s something almost childlike about him. He’s arguably as intelligent and cunning as ever, yet there’s a quizzical element to him, an almost cat-like curiosity as he studies his surroundings and especially when he comes face-to-face with Laurie herself. Much of this lies in the visual design. In addition to the eyes, Michael’s hair is wilder and his clothes are baggier, his lips darker and almost curved into the slightest smile. Intentionally or not, it’s the closest he’s ever come visually to that night in 1963, when he put on a baggy clown costume at six years old and killed his older sister. 

Many people point out the sibling twist of Halloween II as something totally unnecessary that set a bad course for the franchise and ruined the mystery of the original. It’s true. That twist didn’t need to happen and did certainly lessen the enigma that the shape had been the first time around. But part of the problem with the twist in Halloween II is that the line that drops said twist is also the only line to mention it at all. Loomis never explains the connection to Laurie. Nobody does. By the end of the movie, she still doesn’t know because after the first time it’s spoken of, it is never mentioned again. 

Halloween H20 at least tries to deal with it and it is really the only movie in the franchise that does, so it certainly deserves some credit for that. This movie is fundamentally about what it means for Laurie to be Michael Myers’ sister and how it has affected her. Though she had fought him through both Halloween and Halloween II, the dynamic has totally shifted. In the first, she didn’t even know what was happening until all of her friends were already dead. By the time she’s rushed to the hospital and the first sequel gets underway, all she’s learned is his name. But in H20, he’s family. She’s not unaware, she knows more than just his name and she’s been thinking of him for the past twenty years, no matter what else she has tried to fill her life with. 

That’s what makes the ending—without taking its immediate sequel into account—so perfect. Laurie has already had her epic showdown with Michael at this point. She locked herself inside the school with him, screaming his name and stalking after him with a weapon in her hands—a role reversal that Curtis wisely insisted on—in what is honestly one of the franchise’s most goosebump-inducing moments. But after stabbing him over and over with his own knife and watching him fall off another balcony, Laurie once again tries to not repeat past mistakes and does not want to give him the opportunity to disappear again, so she steals the coroner’s van with Michael’s supposedly dead body still inside of it in order to bring their relationship to a much more private end. 

The ending that follows is unique in being one of the very few emotional moments we’re ever allowed to have with Michael Myers, but what’s great about that is we have no way of knowing if it’s at all emotional on his end. It probably isn’t. Ignoring that, in continuity, this turned out to be a paramedic with his larynx crushed, Michael reaches out for Laurie, trying to reach for her hand as he’s pinned between the ambulance and a tree. It’s tender, for a second, even though he’s probably reaching out to make one final attempt at either taking her out or bringing her down with him. Laurie reaches out as well. With Michael restrained and immobile, this is the only moment like this they could ever really have. She reaches out because this is her brother and she is finally coming to terms with that. As much as her courage to rise to the occasion and take him down has helped her to process her trauma, it is this moment that brings her through to the other side. After being terrified of him for twenty years, not only does she just get to have this quiet moment to take him in, but she also gets to watch him squirm like a worm in a jar. Then, of course, a second before their hands actually touch, she brings the ax down and chops off his head, ending both his reign of terror and his control over her life in a single satisfying blow. 

At the end of the day, there are many different kinds of Halloween movies simply by virtue of the fact that there are many Halloween movies in general. H20 was not the first to ignore the previous sequels to go its own way—Halloween III will always be the reigning champion of that—nor was it the last. But when it comes to those movies about Michael stalking his blood relatives and especially the perhaps unnecessary plot point of his relationship with Laurie, H20 stands as the only entry in the original franchise to actually center on that and genuinely deal with it. The fact that it deals with it in such an earnest and thoughtful way only goes to cement the sequel’s important, maybe even vital place in the overall Halloween legacy. 

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