Perhaps only a scant three years had passed since the last Halloween film hit cinema screens, but H20 was released during a new era as far as horror movies were concerned: the post-Scream era, a world that includes the Jump Scare*, tongue-in-cheek humor, and a new brand of savvy teenager who is always stylishly dressed and sophisticatedly hip in a way that most real teenagers are not. It is in this new land that the Halloween franchise would finally be restarted. In the H20 storyline, nothing involving Michael Myers has happened since the climactic moments inside Haddonfield Memorial Hospital at the end of Halloween 2. The events of Parts 4-6 now live only in an alternate universe. In theory, The Doctor is OK with this turn of events because it really would have been improbable to make a true sequel after the events of Parts 5 and 6. I can always watch Halloween 4 if I need to revisit Earl and his bar for sentimental purposes.
Hang on, I’ve got something in my eye… I’m either growing teary-eyed or leaking tonic water, and I’d rather not know which.
THE FILM – HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER
It is 1998, twenty years after the original Halloween killing spree of Michael Myers. Derek Jeter’s Yankees are seemingly unbeatable, the stock market is on the rise, and Michael Myers hasn’t been seen in two decades. A comforting dusk descends on the damp October streets of Langdon, Illinois, on October 30th. The orange shards of twilight quickly yield to evening darkness as they would around that time of year, and H20 is no different from other (good) Halloween movies in capturing this time and place with the precise feel of the Fall season. The comfortable, leafy burg of Langdon is the home of Nurse Marion, a friend and coworker of Dr. Loomis from the first two Halloween films. In an appreciative touch, the role is reprised by the original actress Nancy Stephens. Loomis is gone, of course, but Nurse Marion had apparently served as Loomis’ personal care taker and is now the keeper of his memory and personal papers. How Myers knew of her location and chose this moment to reappear is not explained, but this is in keeping with the true Myers fashion. When Nurse Marion comes home from work and realizes that her house has been broken into, she enlists a couple of street-hockey playing teenagers (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Branden Williams) to investigate. Myers, however, is playing his usual cat-and-mouse game, so nothing happens… immediately. None of these characters are long for the world of H20 and I thought it was a suspenseful, well-made opening that draws in the viewer.
Halloween day has arrived and we are transported across the country to sunny Summer Glen, California, and the plush, gated boarding school of the Hillcrest Academy where Jamie Lee Curtis makes her welcome return as Laurie Strode. Only she isn’t Laurie Strode anymore, having faked her death and changed her name to Keri Tate. Ms. Tate has been employed as the headmistress of this posh school where she lives alone (and somewhat reclusively) with her teenaged son John, played by Josh Hartnett in one of his earliest film roles. A contentious relationship, bordering on fracture, exists between mother and son. John is the only person aware of his mother’s past, but on his seventeenth birthday he informs her in no uncertain terms that he is tiring of her overprotection and desires very much to go on a weekend trip to Yosemite with the rest of his classmates. Laurie is on the booze and a bevy of medications and, while on the surface she seems to be functioning in her duties as headmistress, the screaming night terrors and daytime hallucinations indicate that she might be a ticking time bomb. I’ve always liked Curtis, but I found a new appreciation for her as an actress after taking a critical look at H20. Every pained expression of fear and anxiety exposes the personality of this broken character in a way that other actresses would have failed to render. By the time anyone reads this, the new Halloween movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis (and “rebooting” to a starting point where nothing has happened since the original Halloween movie) will have been released theatrically and you can bet that The Doctor will be there in my Dr. Loomis trench coat with a thermos of iced gin.
Laurie/Keri eventually reverses course and cedes permission for John to go on the Yosemite trip, only John no longer wants to leave by that point in the afternoon. A soiree has been planned for after dark with a few other students who won’t be making the trip for various reasons. The most notable of these is John’s girlfriend Molly, played here by none other than a curly haired Michelle Williams during her Dawson’s Creek days and years before she started getting nominated for Oscars. Like any resourceful teenager bent on recklessly doing what he or she wants to do without thinking of any potential repercussions, John somehow manages to pretend that he left for Yosemite along with everyone else. A trail of school buses containing students and faculty evacuates Hillcrest and heads down a series of winding roads, immediately turning the now darkening campus into an isolated environment of long shadows, high-angled walls, and Victorian-era imitation street lamps. Myers makes his way to the school and slips past the hapless security guard serving as comic relief played by LL Cool J. In the old days, Myers would have dispatched the security guard by braining him with a hammer or a yard rake rather than stealthily slipping past. I suppose twenty years of repose have made Michael lazy. Oh well.
With Myers lurking about, the kids are having a few underage cocktails and Laurie/Keri is spending the evening with the school’s sympathetic guidance counselor and her ostensible beau, Mr. Brennan (Adam Arkin.) It’s a slow build-up, but the pacing never feels stilted and that is a complement to the performers. There is just one problem that unfortunately hangs over H20. For the first hour of the film – which only runs 86 minutes long in total – Myers is barely a character at all, appearing only sporadically. When he does appear, Michael has also been upgraded for the nineties: his hair is stylishly messy on one of the several masks he wears. I never noticed this before; Cade pointed this inexcusable nonsense of multiple onscreen masks out to me just prior to my recent viewing.
In another strange development, the final act of H20 might be its weakest but that is not to say that it is boring. Questionable, perhaps, but not boring, if only because everything occurs so rapidly. The mano-e-mano showdown between Laurie and Michael delivers the requisite tension, although your favorite Doctor must point out that in multiple scenes we are treated to billowing white curtains on a second-floor landing… and I kept expecting Bonnie Tyler to walk out and sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Turn around, bright eyes…
H20 is very much a product of its time. It is a post-Scream, late nineties, Dawson’s Creek-era horror film. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is going to be subjective. Hell, even I don’t know if that is a complement or not. The Doctor was certainly gallivanting about the terra in 1998, performing undergrad experiments and painting the town red at every available opportunity in between Beverly Hills 90210 episodes. However, while I look back fondly on that particular time, many of the movies themselves have not proven very memorable. H20 is a suspenseful, well-acted movie… and yet it is still probably only for fans of Halloween. The film’s climax could have put an end to the Halloween narrative for once and all, but we know that was never going to happen. Until then, Happy Trick or Treating.
*For Millennials or those otherwise uninitiated, the Jump Scare was not invented in 2009. It first reemerged on the scene with Scream in 1996, and it was a tactic that worked, however briefly. It then became something of a gimmick and by the time of Paranormal Activity and Insidious the Jump Scare had evolved into a concept that entire movies hinged their success upon. Blecch, says I.
THE CIGAR – CUATRO CINCO by JOYA de NICARAGUA
When I first had the idea of reviewing all of the Halloween film entries leading up to the most recent release this October, I planned on pairing each movie The Doctor reviews with a premium cigar that for whatever reason struck a chord with me as far as connecting to each individual movie. It could be a faint tie-in at best, but it would be personal and the pairing would make sense TO ME as a lifelong devotee of the Halloween series. That’s all that mattered as far as my thought process. As we began this jump into the mythological world of Haddonfield, I soon realized that this would be a perfect time to discuss and review some Drew Estate cigars that we had acquired throughout 2018 on our many adventures working for DE on the road doing various video and editing work for the company. So I will be reviewing a Drew Estate cigar within each of these initial posts (I imagine that I’ll be mixing in some non-DE offerings down the line but we shall see… there are no rules) AND I may break with TNCC tradition by rating some of the cigars as I go along. Why? Because it’s Halloween, my favorite time of year, and I’m the boss so I can do what I want. I hope you enjoy these posts as much as we are going to enjoy sharing them with you.
I loved H20 when I walked out of the crowded theater on opening night back in college. It had been a few years since the enjoyable but frustrating curiosity that was Halloween 6 and, upon that initial screening, I liked more than I disliked about Laurie Strode’s triumphant return to the franchise. Upon subsequent viewings the inconsistent usage of various masks (seriously filmmakers, it shouldn’t be this hard to settle on one fucking Myers mask before shooting begins!) and the more classical musical score began to bother me more and more. It just felt so different than any of the previous entries and not in a good way… but the acting was very solid across the boards and there was enough there for me to still give it a yearly viewing right up until last night. Life’s too short to bitch about everything, am I right?
Size: 6 x 52
Binder: Dominican Republic
The veiny dark brown wrapper of the Cuatro Cinco is slightly oily to the touch and after clipping the cap I really don’t get any recognizable impressions off the cold draw.
The aroma that immediately pours off the cigar upon torching the foot is heavenly. There’s black pepper on the retrohale and black coffee on the draw. At around the one inch marker a nice cedar note emerges as well (the five-year-aged tobacco leaves were saved especially for this occasion and aged in oak barrels but I don’t pick up on any oak flavors through the duration of the cigar). Construction is spot on with a straight burn line and generous airlflow.
As the second third begins, there’s a metallic note and mineral component that arrive almost simultaneously. It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced the metallic note and I believe the last time was also via a Joya de Nicaragua offering (one of my favorites the Antaño 1970 Gran Consul). The strength also increases to the right side of medium now, with full body from start to finish. The cedar has said adiós at this point as well, leaving only the strong coffee note to meld with these new flavors. The impressive ash on this motherscratcher holds on tight like Michael to his beloved butcher knife.
At the start of the final third, the draw begins to feel a little tight so I clip the head again with my scissors ever so slightly and that seems to do the trick. And upon removing both bands I discover a cool little message underneath the secondary band…
The final act of the Cuatro Cinco is balls to the wall – the pepper on the nose increases and the boldness of the coffee jumps up on the draw as well. The metallic and mineral notes slowly begin to recede and the cigar finishes as an amplified version of the beginning. The Cuatro Cinco comes full circle, kind of like Laurie Strode’s journey from 1978 to 1998.
If you’re curious as to how Laurie Strode is portrayed in 2018 with the latest Halloween film release, tune in right here this Wednesday for the TNCC’s big HALLOWEEN episode where we talk our way through the latest movie. In the meantime, I recommend the JdN Cuatro Cinco for those looking for a well crafted puro showcasing some of the finest flavors Nicaraguan tobacco has to offer. Is it equal to the Cinco Décadas that Joya created to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary? No. But it’s a fine cigar nonetheless. Maybe if they would have solved their mask issues and put in an appropriate msoundtrack, Halloween H20 would have received higher praise from yours truly as well… Well folks, only one more movie to go!