To call "Halloween: H20 (20 Years Later)" the best of the sequels to John Carpenter's classic 1978 horror film "Halloween" isn't much of a compliment. All the others have been downright awful.

Keeping that in mind, you can certainly understand why the makers of this creepy slasher thriller decided to disregard the previous sequels (except for 1980's "Halloween 2," since Jamie Lee Curtis was in it).Instead, what they've come up with here is pretty successful (at least until the final five minutes), as director Steve Miner ("My Father the Hero," two "Friday the 13th" sequels) faithfully replicates Carpenter's "restrained" style and tongue-in-cheek, self-aware dialogue (also used in the "Scream" movies).

Curtis again reprises her role as Laurie Strode, who survived a series of murderous attacks from her brother, knife-wielding Michael Myers (a k a, "The Shape") two decades ago.

Since then, Laurie has gone through therapy and substance addictions and even faked her own death. Now she's living under an assumed name, Keri Tate, and is serving as the headmistress of a private school in northern California.

But as Halloween approaches, her thoughts return to her terrifying past, and it turns out she has reason to be afraid. Michael has found out her current whereabouts and is wandering the school grounds, waiting for the right time to strike.

He bides his time until the majority of students are gone on vacation, and then begins terrorizing Laurie and those remaining on campus, including her 17-year-old son John (Josh Hartnett) and her boyfriend, guidance counselor Will Brennan (Adam Arkin).

Miner and screenwriters Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg do an effective job of setting things up for the finale everyone wants to see: a climactic showdown between Laurie and the seemingly unstoppable killer.

But then they almost blow it with a ludicrously over-the-top finale that seems like a hasty script revision. Fortunately, the preceeding 80 or so minutes are tense and exciting, and the cast is great.

In particular, Curtis superbly conveys her character's initial nervousness and subsequent strength of will, while Arkin and some talented young actors lend strong support. Also, both LL Cool J and Janet Leigh bring needed humor in brief stints as a security guard and secretary, respectively.

"Halloween: H20 (20 Years Later)" is rated R for violent knife attacks and some gunplay, profanity, gory makeup effects and a couple of vulgar double-entendres.