HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988)
(Directed by Dwight H. Little)
(Written by Alan B. McElroy)
(Starring Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris)
Plot: Jamie (Danielle Harris) is the niece of the notorious, ambiguously human, serial killer known as Michael Myers, who has been in a coma for the past 10 years. She has been having nightmares about him, which might come true when he suddenly wakes up and makes her his new target. Yet a half-crazed Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is determined to stop him and this time the town of Haddonfield is ready…Or are they?
“Halloween” ejaculated plenty of followups, but while “Halloween II” was probably the closest in capturing the tone and creepiness of the original, I believe “Halloween 4” is still the best of the sequels. There are many who agree with me, although sometimes this is more of a criticism directed at the other entries than it is a praise for this specific one. But everyone concedes that at the absolute least, it’s not the worst of them. The Saga of Michael Myers was supposed to end with “Halloween 2“, but John Carpenters’ ambitions to change the franchise into a kind of anthology crashed with the failure of “Halloween 3“. His subsequent attempt to spare Michael from becoming just another slasher villain by turning him into some sort of ghost was rejected by producer Moustapha Akkad for being ‘too cerebral’. Akkad- even if he never admitted it- wanted Michael Myers to be…Jason Voorhees, which is funny because Jason Voorhees was clearly inspired by Michael Myers. You can criticize Akkad for embracing the formula, especially considering the slasher genre was already beginning to run out of steam anyway, but this decision is likely responsible for Michael becoming a horror icon. “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” is very formulaic, seemingly borrowing all of its ideas from other popular 80’s flicks, but it executes all of the cliches and conventions of the genre with skill and style. Furthermore, even if it’s not original, at least it introduced a lot of new content to the franchise. Michael is no longer a creeper who stalks babysitters, he’s a killing machine who declares war on an entire town in order to take out a single target. He destroys the phone lines, cuts the power and even massacres the police station, even before they’ve confirmed he’s alive. He’s like Jason Voorhees, the Terminator and Rambo rolled up into one. Yet there is a true character buried underneath this familiarity, as he seems to enjoy the cat-and-mouse games with Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence). I find it interesting that he never tries to kill him when he has the chance, even when it should be easy to do so. I like that Michael is crafty and seems to have an affinity for wearing the same outfit, although this leads to at least one problem. The mask might be fashioned after his classic attire, but it looks too clean and cheap compared to the first. It just doesn’t inspire that much fear. Furthermore, the actor (George P. Wilbur) is obviously wearing padding underneath the mechanic suit as well, so that was occasionally distracting. But he is in a fun, exciting slasher flick, which is something most of the other Michaels can’t boast in their favor. Despite my complaints about his ‘design’, I actually think Wilbur is one of the better actors to portray Michael, as his body language is unsettling and his physical presence is enhanced by a great use of empowering angles.
The plot is pretty standard and I understand the argument that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. “Halloween 2” revealed that Laurie Strode was Michaels’ sister, so I can understand why he would pursue her based on his backstory- which was built around him murdering their other sister. He learns that Laurie has a daughter named Jamie (Danielle Harris), which brings him out of his coma and into his next murder spree. But why is he obsessed with Jamie? We learn the answer in subsequent sequels, but within the context of “Halloween 4“, his motives were clarified in “Halloween 2“. I usually prefer ambiguity, but in this case it feels less like a mystery and more like the writer didn’t have the answers himself. What was with that apparent psychic link between Jamie and Michael anyway? I also found it amusing how they lampshade other plot holes, such as how Michael can move around so easily after being in a coma for 10 years. Being in a coma seems too human for the “he’s no mere man” angle to make sense anyway, so once again, the writer is coping out. But admittedly this is me being a critic, as I personally did not care about these oversights. I did care about the characters though, as writer Alan B. McElroy gave us (mostly) likable, relateable leads whom we do not want to see die. The decision to make Michaels’ target such a young girl was daring and added a lot to the suspense. I also really liked how Dr. Loomis has become unhinged over the years, which makes his scenes a lot more compelling. There is some really good dialogue that highlights the similarities between Loomis and Michael, making their “relationship” that much more fascinating. There are some really interesting ideas too, such as a group of vigilantes deciding to hunt Michael down. While I liked the character writing, I was disappointed that one of the main protagonists never had the chance to react to the death of a loved one. I also didn’t care for how Loomis was anti-climactically removed from the conflict, although I thought the ending in general was really cool.
“Halloween 4” is a lot more action oriented than its predecessors and many of its followups, with a lot of its material being based around chase scenes and public attacks. The director did a good job at framing these, using the right amount of fog and flashy blue filters to give the film its own visual style. “Halloween” and its first sequel focused on creepy imagery and slow burn suspense, but “Halloween 4” strives for a much brisker paced, white knuckled kind of intensity that gives it its own flavor. Many have criticized the film for this, but I believe it would’ve been a mistake to try to imitate the original, as it would’ve been harder not to compare the two. I might prefer prefer an apple that is “Halloween“, but sometimes I’ll want an orange that is “Halloween 4” too. The acting is great, possibly being amongst the best of the series. Ellie Cornell is endearing in a role that is almost forgettable, as it’s sandwiched between the more interesting characterizations of Dr. Loomis and the surprising breakthrough performance of Danielle Harris as Jamie. The editing balances spectacle and suspense. The stuntwork is exciting, the cinematography is foreboding and “Halloween 4” isn’t lacking in production value. This is a handsomely crafted sequel that pays respect to the original while forging its own path. It’s my favorite amongst the sequels because…most of the sequels aren’t very good…The only ones that have received any kind of acclaim are “Halloween 2” and “Halloween H20“, even though the latter is is devoid of suspense, style, atmosphere and is prone to unintentional hilarity. “Halloween 2” has suspense, style, atmosphere and I can take it seriously, but “Halloween” gives me an identical experience…except better… “Halloween 4“, on the other hand, is a nice alternative if I’m in the right mood for it. “Halloween” delivers chills, while “Halloween 4” delivers thrills!
Violence: Rated R- Not the goriest in the franchise, but still pretty violent.
Nudity: There is a sex scene, with brief nudity.
Overall: “Halloween 4” might not be any kind of classic, but it is a lot of fun.
MY ORIGINAL (alternate) REVIEW
–Note From Author: I decided not to label this as ‘discarded material’, because I don’t consider it to be that bad. This was written when I was using a much snarkier style, which I’ve grown out of. I was also prone to discussing the plot in detail, a trait that I now consider to be superfluous. I wanted to re-write my review to be more grounded in the critique, with less ‘humorous’ filler. But maybe you’ll prefer this, as it was one of my better writings for the time.
“Halloween 4” is, in my worthless opinion, the best of the “Halloween” sequels. Sure, many fans would argue that “Halloween 2” or “Halloween H20” are the best of the sequels. I don’t know why “Halloween H20” has fans, as the film is devoid of suspense, style, atmosphere and is unintentionally funny with its interpretation on how teenagers act. “Halloween 2” is definitely one of the better sequels, but spends too much time with Michael walking around and killing random people for no apparent reason. Keep in mind that when I say “Halloween 2”, I’m not referring to Rob Zombies’ “Sequel which shall not be named”. Really, my only major problem with “Halloween 4” is that it lead to the creation of “Halloween 5“. While watching the movie I kept thinking to myself: “This is good, but was it really worth the existence of “Halloween 5?””. Maybe I’m too harsh, but with the exception of Rob Zombie’s remake, most of these sequels blow rocks. ESPECIALLY “Halloween 5“.
“Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” begins with a shot of a scarecrow on a farm. It reminds us of the opening credits pumpkin of the original. Indeed, the Halloween iconography (pumpkins, etc.) is back and just as good as before. Our nostalgia continues as we see the homely Haddonfield, Illinois. You’ll have to deal with some rewriting of “Halloween 2”, as both Dr. Loomis (Pleasence) and Michael Myers (Wilbur, this time) survived the finale of that film, although they do have some nasty burns. Michael drives later on, so his eyes are somehow back too. In the opening, he is in a coma. When he’s being transported, he suddenly awakens, kills the doctors, and escapes. The crazier than ever Dr. Loomis is sure that Michael intends to return to Haddonfield to begin another murder spree, but no one believes him. On the way to Haddonfield, Loomis comes across a gas station where all the employees are dead. He also finds Michael, who oddly, makes no attempt to kill him. Loomis pleads Michael to leave the good people of Haddonfield alone, but Michael ignores him.
Am I the only one curious as to why Michael never bothers killing Loomis? He occasionally beats him up, but in the original continuity, never tries to kill him. I don’t count the ambiguous ending of “Halloween 6” either, as it’s……just too ambiguous (and stupid). Does Michael still care for Loomis? I doubt it. Personally, I wonder if Michael enjoys having Loomi around as an arch enemy to make things more interesting for him. It seemed to me that Michaels’ movements and actions in the gas station almost come across as teasing. Their relationship is intriguing, AND IT’S TOO FREAKING BAD THAT “HALLOWEEN 5” NEVER GOES ANYWHERE WITH IT. Interestingly enough, the film suggests that Loomis and Michael are alike in a very subtle way. There is a great scene where Loomis bonds with a crazy Reverend (Filpi), who rambles on about how Loomis is a hunter (just like himself). The reverend says that he’s been hunting for the apocalypse, which takes the form of many shapes, names and faces. He continues to say that he’s almost gotten ‘it’, only for ‘it’ to get away. This is a direct parallel for Loomis, but it also sounds like Michaels’ quest. *Gasp*, a slasher with possible subtext?
Michael intends to go after Jamie (Harris), the daughter of Laurie Strode (who supposedly died in a car accident). Jamie is adjusting to foster life, and Rachel (Cornell) is doing her best to be a good foster sister. Dr. Loomis quickly goes to the Sheriff (Starr), and quickly gets him to join him on his quest. But Michael has arrived and intends to kill his niece at all costs. Along the way he cuts the power to the city, kills an entire police station (homage to “The Terminator”?), kills a mob, and kills many others in the process. It’s a much bigger killing spree this time around. “Halloween 4” was clearly made in response to the popularity of the gory “Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter”, which is amusing because “Friday the 13th” was made in response to the popularity of “Halloween”. Despite this, I have to give credit to director Little for keeping the gore in the background. Sure, it has gory moments, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it gory. In fact, most of the gore was added in post production. Instead, he goes for the strives for tension. He mostly succeeds, creating an uneasy and stylish atmosphere. But whereas Carpenter focused on the buildup to the murders, Little gives us less buildup and more action during the murders. The chase scenes are intense and edgy, and the film is full of them. To top things off, the use of blue filters gave the film an interesting aesthetic.
The acting is better than usual, possibly even the best within the series. Donald Pleasence (Dr. Loomis) gets more to do and does it like a champ. Without him, the movie probably wouldn’t have worked as well. Danielle Harris(Jamie) does very well for her age. Ellie Cornell (Rachel) is very charming as the heroine, while Beau Starr (Meeker) has lots of presence as the Sheriff. George P. Wilbur (Michael) is effective as our good ole slasher. Strong acting all around. “Halloween 4” delivers the thrills, the kills, and the chills (cheesy, I know). It is the only entry in the franchise, besides the original, that I like without reservations. Sure, Michael teleports (at one point, possibly literally). But as the first film pointed out, he is evil incarnate. Perhaps he really does have that ability. Unfortunately, while “Halloween 4” is awesome, it is also responsible for Michael becoming a franchise. As I’ve referenced before, the series in itself kind of sucks and “Halloween 4” is really to blame for it. So enjoy it while you can children, things are about to go downhill from here.