Halloween H20

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Collector's Edition DVD

Disney, widescreen 2.35:1, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], subtitles: English, single side-dual layer, 13 chapters, rated R, 86 min., $39.99, street date 10/19/99.


  • "Unmasking the Horror" Featurette
  • Trivia Game
  • Music Video

Studio Line

Directed by Steve Miner. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe.

This smart and suspenseful thriller scares up a bone-chilling good time with original scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis and a hot cast of hip young stars! Now the headmistress of a private school, Laurie Strode (Curtis) is still struggling with the horrifying 20-year-old memories of the maniacal killer Michael Myers...when he suddenly reappears with a vengeance! And this Halloween, his terror will strike a whole new generation! Laurie's rebellious son (Josh Hartnett), his girlfriend (Michelle Williams), and the school security guard (LL Cool J) will become Michael's newest victims unless Laurie can conquer her greatest fears and put evil in its place once and for all! The time has come again for you to experience the frightening fun of Halloween - the motion picture series that totally redefined terror!

Picture/Sound/Extras (B+/C+/D+)

Disney and all their subsidiaries have made a rather poor name for themselves in the DVD, and their release of Halloween: H20 offers a prime example of why that is. A study of its rather sordid little history will show why Disney, et al, have so frequently cheesed off so many DVD fans.

H20 came out theatrically in August, 1998. (Why they brought it out in August instead of the more logical October is bizarre.) It did okay at the box office, but not terribly well, and it hit video before too long.

But not DVD. At that time, Disney released open DVDs but they were also in on the great disaster known as DIVX, and H20 bowed on that format well before any form of open DVD was announced. Some rumors popped up in regard to an open DVD release of the film, but nothing concrete happened until the summer of 1999.

If I recall correctly, the rumors often questioned whether this would be a movie-only release - akin to the old DIVX version - or if it would be a special edition. When the official announcement hit the headlines, it was touted as being part of the "Dimension (Films) Collector's Series" and promised a fair number of extras, such as an audio commentary and a documentary.

This made Halloween fans happy and made the elongated wait for the DVD more bearable. At least their patience would be rewarded with some juicy supplements.

Alas, it wasn't to be. When it shipped in October, 1999, the H20 DVD - priced at a steep $39.95 - came with almost nothing in the way of extras. A music video, a brief documentary, and a cheesy trivia game - that was it.

This wasn't the first time a DVD would ship with much less than originally advertised. Among others, The Haunting lacked the audio commentary and deleted scenes that were supposed to appear, and The Shawshank Redemption comes minus the Morgan Freeman commentary. (Oddly, a number of sources such as Image Entertainment and Reel still indicate that The Haunting boasts those absent features! At least Amazon have fixed their listing, which matched those other two three weeks ago.)

I find it very annoying when this happens, mainly because I often preorder titles based on this data. Would I have purchased The Haunting and Shawshank if they hadn't advertised those features? Maybe, but maybe not. In any case, it was the supplements that put them over the top.

Those instances pale next to the travesty that is H20 on DVD, however. Let's look at the individual cases. The Haunting lacked the commentary and deleted scenes, but it did at least include a decent 27 minute documentary about the film, plus two trailers, production notes and cast and crew biographies, all for a fairly reasonable list price of $29.95. Shawshank arrives with little - some production photos and notes, a trailer, and biographies - but at least it boasts a low MSRP of $19.95.

H20 not only features very little in the way of extras, but it asks the viewer to pay through the nose for them: the list price for the DVD is a whopping $39.95! Adding insult to injury was some false advertising. Occasionally DVDs get out with some mistakes on their packaging; Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit touts a nonexistent trailer, for example.

The case of H20 - at least in its initial packaging - is much worse, however. The DVD case listed an audio commentary from star Jamie Lee Curtis and director Steve Miner, and a sticker on the shrink wrap mentioned the availability of both Dolby Digital and DTS sound on the disc. As it stands, there's no commentary and only the Dolby track appears.

Repressings of the DVD have omitted these errors, but the damage remains. $40 for this?! Yeah, their animated titles also boast that ridiculously high price point, but at least those had some historical merit to them; they can rightfully be regarded as "event" DVDs. H20 is just another lousy horror movie.

And lousy it definitely is. I'd actually heard some mildly positive comments about it when it appeared in theaters and I considered seeing it. I'm glad I took a pass. This movie is nothing more than a pretty basic rehash of the same old, same old, with almost nothing new about it. That was bad enough before 1996, but in the post-Scream era, it's virtually unforgivable.

H20 thinks of itself as being of that ilk, as it includes a few "wink wink" references to other films. In case you decide to see the movie, I won't mention them and ruin the surprises; they aren't much, but they're about the only fun things going for this film.

Although I must admit it's kind of fun to see Curtis back in her old horror environs, this film is such a drag that her presence can't liven it up. Banal, dull, predictable, tiresome - all are appropriate descriptions of this dog. How bad is this film? I found all of the Nightmare On Elm Street movies to be more interesting, even though some of them are pretty bad. At only 86 minutes, H20 nonetheless seemed too long for its nonexistent plot.

Starting to get the feeling I didn't much like this movie? That's an understatement. I don't expect much from horror films, but even with low expectations, Halloween: H20 can't match up. Halloween diehards may derive some enjoyment from this clunker, but I can't imagine how.

Despite its many drawbacks, I can't describe this as a terrible DVD because it does some things well. Halloween: H20 is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD. (Why it's dual-layered is a mystery, considering that the total amount of video on this disc only adds up to about 110 minutes.) The image is not enhanced for 16X9 televisions.

Overall, the picture looks pretty good, which makes sense since that's the one thing Disney usually does well. The image appears consistently sharp without any obvious edge enhancement; while wide shots may seem a tiny bit soft, this is not unexpected or problematic. Colors appear quite accurate and solid, and black levels seem strong.

At times, a few print flaws enter the equation. I didn't notice any grain or digital artifacts, but I did see some scratches and marks. There aren't many of them, but for such a recent film, any is too many. I also felt that shadow detail seemed weak. Yes, this is a dark film, but I found far too many of the scenes to be far too dark. I had to strain to tell what was happening on many occasions. If this wasn't a factor, my rating would have been higher, but the murkiness of the shadows knocked it down to a still-strong "B+".

H20 offers a decent but lackluster Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. While the quality of the audio is consistently pretty good, the mix lacks ambition and is much tamer than I'd expect of a film of this vintage. The front soundstage seems reasonably open and spreads decently across the front three channels; it doesn't boast much in the way of stereo effects, but there's enough to create some nice imaging.

The rear channels, on the other hand, are badly neglected. We hear some ambient effects and some musical fills from them, and that's pretty much it. Comedies and dramas can get away with that, since they aren't usually sound-driven films, but an action/horror picture really needs to take better advantage of the sonic possibilities, and H20 simply doesn't meet expectations in that regard.

At least the quality is very good. I thought the sound lacked much low end and occasionally seemed a little thin, but it always appeared clear and crisp with no distortion. Dialogue was natural and intelligible and music and effects seemed bright and lively. H20 suffers from a lack of ambition but succeeds at what it attempts to do.

As already noted, where this DVD mainly fails is in its attempt to be a special edition. The collection of supplements included here is quite pathetic. The main attraction is a pretty good 18 minute documentary called "Unmasking the Horror". While we'd expect this piece to discuss H20, it actually spends most of its time talking about the first Halloween movie. We even see new interviews with that film's director, John Carpenter, plus footage of Curtis and others discussing the original classic. While I found their comments interesting, I thought this move seemed kind of sad; it's like they hoped that by associating themselves more closely with the first movie then maybe we'd think H20 didn't suck. Sorry - while I enjoyed "Unmasking the Horror", it didn't change my mind about H20.

Other than that, all we have are a fairly dull music video from Pearl Jam wannabes Creed (for "What's This Life For") and an inane ten question trivia game. The latter "rewards" you with the same movie clip over and over if you answer correctly, and "punishes" you with another snippet when you get one wrong. If you get the tenth question right, you get to see a different piece. Yawn.

Rarely have I felt as certain of a recommendation as the one I'm about to make. Halloween H20 is a bad movie that comes on a very disappointing DVD. While the disc offers decent picture and sound, it's stark lack of supplements mocks the entire notion of a "Collector's Edition." Add to that the absurd list price of $39.95 and you have Halloween: H20, a DVD to be avoided at all costs.

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