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Like demented serial killer Michael Myers, the Halloween franchise refuses to die. Two decades after the release of director John Carpenter’s surprise low-budget hit (the mother of hundreds of cheapo slashers), and in the wake of five gory, inept sequels by less talented filmmakers, Michael returns to terrorize his initial prey, his sister Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).

One of the few noteworthy things about Halloween:H20 is how it differs from its progenitor. Carpenter’s accomplished visual style, especially the first film’s virtuoso extended tracking shots, appealed to moviegoers who were otherwise indifferent to witnessing the slaughter of hormone-fueled adolescents. H20’s director Steve Miner, who launched his career in Halloween clones (the second and third Friday the 13th features and the original House), is content to recycle threadbare thriller devices: menacing shadows, shock cuts, creepy music. His lack of inspiration shifts full responsibility for the movie’s success to the screenwriters and cast.

Fans of the Halloween pictures know exactly what they want to see: a masked lunatic devising inventive methods to slaughter teenagers. This formula holds in H20, but writers Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg have come up with a few interesting narrative flourishes to accommodate Curtis’ return. Laurie has moved to California, changed her name to Keri Tate, and become headmistress of a posh private prep school. Nevertheless, haunted by the bloodbath she barely survived in 1978, she remains a nervous wreck, a booze and pill addict neurotically dependent on her resentful 17-year-old son John (Josh Hartnett).

On Halloween 1998, the students and faculty of Laurie’s school depart for a camping trip to Yosemite. Laurie and her guidance counselor-confidant Will (Adam Arkin) remain on campus, as do, secretly, John, his girlfriend, Molly, and two of their classmates, who plan to indulge in some unsupervised partying. But Michael (Chris Durand) has tracked down his sister and, after slipping past the campus security guard (a good-natured if surprisingly Amos ‘n’ Andy-ish turn by LL Cool J), intends to finish her off, along with anyone else who gets in his way.

Series fans will be disappointed to learn that the film’s body count is low. (You really have to want to be terrified to get spooked by this tame chiller.) Two marginal characters are wasted in a sluggish prologue—one off camera and the other almost subliminally. For the next hour, Miner sets off numerous false alarms, but nobody buys the farm. Three more characters (not counting Michael, whose resurrectional powers are infinite) are polished off in the last 20 minutes, but ever so discreetly, in flash cuts lasting only a few seconds. Moviegoers expecting some serious mayhem—spikes through eyeballs, involuntary organ donations—will have to search elsewhere.

The scariest thing about H20 is Curtis. Since her last Halloween appearance, she has evolved into a cold-eyed, tight-lipped, taut-muscled creature against whom Michael clearly doesn’t stand a chance. Although Laurie is supposed to have been traumatized by her teenage torments, Curtis doesn’t betray a flicker of vulnerability. (Janet Leigh, Curtis’ sweet-faced, birdlike mom, appears in a cameo to prove how far the apple can fall from the tree, as well as to provide a peg for some hoary Psycho homages.) Now far too butch for conventional female roles, it’s time for Curtis to take out Jason and Freddy as a prelude to even greater challenges, like the extermination of Saddam Hussein.

In 1963, Jacques Demy wrote and directed Bay of Angels (La Baie des Anges), featuring Jeanne Moreau as a compulsive gambler on the French Riviera who takes a chance on something even riskier than roulette: romance. Apart from their titles and Mediterranean setting, Demy’s lyrical love story and writer-director Manuel Pradal’s feature debut Marie Baie des Anges have one additional thing in common—extraordinary images. Cinematographer Christophe Pollock’s masterful command of composition, light, and color make this film essential viewing for anyone considering a career in, or with an appreciation of, art photography.

Others are advised to proceed with caution. Pradal’s screenplay, if such a term can be applied to a nearly wordless scenario, is pretentious and bewilderingly incoherent. The film opens with an ominous epigraph. We’re told that the bay around Nice is called the “Bay of Angels” because it once sheltered a species of shark called ange de mer. These sharks—symbolized by two large fin-shaped rocks—protected the bay against invaders, but then, hungry for blood, turned on the noblemen they were supposed to protect. To appease the sharks, each year the princes of the bay sacrificed a child to them.

We’re then introduced to Pradal’s teenage protagonists: Orso (Frédéric Malgras), a fearless, stern-faced young thief, and Marie (Vahina Giocante), a lissome beach nymphet vamping American sailors. The pair meet after Orso escapes from a reformatory and Marie is dumped by her nautical suitors. They enjoy a brief Rousseauesque idyll on a verdant, deserted island before being marked by the telegraphed fate of the angels of the sea.

Marie Baie des Anges is boutique nihilism, Larry Clark’s Kids genteelly drained of sex and drugs and transposed to tourist paradise. Pradal has no interest in his characters beyond their iconographic presence. They are ciphers, presented without any trace of social, economic, or psychological context. All that matters is that Orso, shirtless under a black sports jacket, scampers through the landscape like a baby Belmondo, and Marie, in her form-fitting red print dress, looks and moves like a teen goddess.

Obstinately refusing to penetrate the surfaces of his characters and their landscape, Pradal presents a parade of spasmodic sensations. You can never determine the chronology of individual sequences or distinguish fantasy from flashback, present from past. After a while, there’s nothing to do but turn off your brain and let the images wash over you until the lights come up.

At several points, Marie Baie des Anges seems as if it’s about to abandon adolescent angst and burst into the ether of musical comedy. Giocante, who has danced with the Marseilles Opera, performs an impromptu ballet on a pier and indulges in some zesty nightclub dirty dancing. One of the American stars, who seems to have wandered in from On the Town, charms Marie with his toe-tapping terpsichore. It’s a pity that Pradal, with his eye for beauty, didn’t choose to make a musical (as Demy did in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and the soon-to-be-reissued The Young Girls of Rochefort) instead of squandering his vision on this designer downer. CP