Twenty years after 'Halloween' carved her name in lights, Jamie Lee Curtis takes on Michael Myers one last time (we think) in 'Halloween: H20'

It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a hundred times. It doesn’t matter if you were virtually weaned on the knife-wielding, plasma-spilling exploits of Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers. And no, it absolutely doesn’t matter if you have a savant’s knowledge of every gore movie from Amityville to Zombie. Chances are you’d still be completely terrified on the set of Halloween: H20.

Mere seconds after arriving at an eerie terra-cotta mansion deep in the darkness-cloaked Los Angeles hills at 2 a.m., you spot a towering solitary figure in a navy blue gas-station attendant’s jumpsuit lumbering toward you in the pitch-black distance. As he approaches, slowly and mummy-like, you suddenly see the light from a full moon reflect off of the shimmering 18-inch steel kitchen knife clenched in his hand. Then you realize: It’s Michael freakin’ Myers — white bogeyman mask and all.

Of course, there’s no real reason to get spooked. After all, Michael Myers stalks only innocent teenagers in the movies, not creeped-out reporters on the sets of movies. But damned if the whole thing still doesn’t make you a tad jumpy. Turns out that the man behind the mask is actually a harmless 34-year-old stuntman named Chris Durand, who’s having fun — maybe too much fun — playing the horror equivalent of the San Diego Chicken. ”You get to get into that serial-killer, bogeyman frame of mind,” says Durand. ”I like how Michael Myers just walks after people, he’s in no hurry to kill anyone.”

Even with Myers’ identity demystified, ominous portents pop up everywhere on the set: A three-legged dog awkwardly limps around, and one of the film’s posse of twentysomething cappuccino-clutching crew members is toting a bucket of fake blood while whistling the famously doom-drenched Halloween theme music. On top of that, later that night, the very same crew member keeps bringing up the rumor that this mansion once belonged to a long-forgotten silent film star named Antonio Moreno, who, he claims, went berserk in a fit of bloodlust and killed a dozen dinner guests. After a while here, you half expect the ghost of Vincent Price to hover in from the night sky going ”Boo-ha-ha!

Tonight Moreno’s godforsaken lair is doubling as the equally flesh-crawling Hillcrest Academy — the swank boarding school at which Jamie Lee Curtis’ Halloween alter ego, Laurie Strode, has become the headmistress two decades after she last cowered in a closet in mortal terror from masked maniac Myers. Wallowing in a sea of booze and pills ever since, Laurie has become anything but pretty-on-the-inside after all these years of slasher shell shock. And since even a deranged lunatic like Myers seems to have a well-honed sense of history, he’s returning 20 years to the day to pick up the body count where he left off. In other words, Halloween night 1998 isn’t exactly a good night to be a randy student — or detoxing headmistress — at Hillcrest Academy.

Halloween night 1978 wasn’t exactly a very good time to be a sex-starved teenager either. But it was a pretty good time to be Curtis, and for that matter, Michael Myers, who went on to menacingly stalk nubile teens in five — now six — Halloween sequels. When Halloween director John Carpenter cast Curtis in the first Halloween, she was just another anonymous 19-year-old actress whose biggest claim to fame to that point had been a stint on the TV series Operation Petticoat. ”I would have begged for any job at that age,” says Curtis. ”So when I got the script for Halloween and Laurie was on every page … it was a huge thing for me to get.” Not that huge. Curtis signed on for a measly $2,000-per-week for four weeks work.