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Movie Review: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Galaxy International Releasing, 1988)
Directed by Dwight H. Little
Written by Alan B. McElroy from a story by McElroy, Danhi Lipsius, Larry Rattner, and Benjamin Ruffner 

It had been six years since the last entry into the series, and we were coming up on the ten-year anniversary for the original, so producer Moustapha Akkad decided to dip in the well that brought him so much fortune in the past and bring back old Mikey Myers, bigger and badder than ever. It proved a successful venture for the most part, and audiences showed that they were ready to see the madman back in action. The film ended up grossing a respectable $17 million. When you consider the mere $5 million dollar budget, sixteen times the budget of the original, it wasn’t a bad profit for a film in the late eighties. But was it any good?

The series picks up ten years later where we are led to believe that Michael Myers has been a coma this whole time. On an unexplained transfer to a new facility he wakes up and kills some doctors, and heads off to his old stomping grounds, Haddonfield, Illinois. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in the first two films) has died, but she has left behind a daughter, 8 year old Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), who would also be Michael’s niece. So, with family still left to kill, Michael steals a car and goes back to work with Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) close behind to try and stop him.

Jamie has been adopted by the Carruthers family and has a foster sister, Rachel (Ellie Cornell), who has taken quite a shine to her. Jamie knows enough about her uncle to have strange nightmares where he pops up in her bedroom and tries to kill her. We also soon learn that the town has not forgotten about Mikey either. When the citizens learn he is back in town, a bunch of truckers take it upon themselves to hunt him down and kill him for good. It’s good to know that even in the Midwestern state of Illinois we still have a redneck trucker brigade to take care of business on occasion.

And as I already mentioned, Dr. Loomis is also back in Haddonfield, and he teams up with the newly appointed Sheriff Ben Meeker (Beau Starr) to track the killer down. The Sheriff has his hands full with Michael Myers killing off his dwindling town population and the aforementioned redneck truckers, who end up killing a few of their own in the process of the hunt for Myers. The Loomis/Meeker team-up fairly well provides the same dynamic that the first film had. On one side, we’ve got Jamie and Rachel running around town trying to escape Myers, and on the other side we’ve got Loomis and Meeker trying to track them down and stop Michael.

One thing I can say about the Halloween films is that for the most part they always found quality actors that you were less likely to find in the other popular horror movie series going on at the time. I think Danielle Harris’s courageous performance gets overlooked since this is in most people’s minds a silly sequel to a horror film. However, I think she ranks right up their with the likes of Henry Thomas in E.T. and Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense as child actors that did a lot more than just look cute for ninety minutes. It’s too bad the film isn’t as good as she is in it.

I’m not one to pick apart every little thing in a film; I really could give two shits that a bottle cap was sitting on a table for one second and then was gone two seconds later. But when one has to ask as many questions as the Doc did while watching Halloween 4, something isn’t right.

For instance, after Michael escapes, Loomis tracks him down at a gas station where he has killed off a couple of people. Michael gets away in a stolen tow truck and in the process blows up the Doctor’s car. So, when Loomis gets down the road a ways, couldn’t he have just picked up a phone and called the Haddonfield police department? He could tell them Myers is on his way to your town in a tow truck with “Bob Smith’s Garage,” or whatever, written on it. The movie would have ended in thirty minutes, but there are ways around this that they never explain.

I’ve also always found it funny how much the diehard fans of this series bitch up and down about how terrible the mask started looking in the sequels. But watching this film again for the first time in probably ten years, I can tell you that the mask does look like shit. Myers steals it from a drug store in Haddonfield, and so it just looks a little too clean. It’s so white when he pops up out of the darkness throughout the film that it looks like Marcel Marceau is the one tracking and killing these people. The mask brought up another interesting question. If the people of Haddonfield are so horrified by the events that took place in their town ten years ago, would they really be selling replicas of the Myers mask?

One thing I’ve always loved about the original, and even the second film didn’t screw this aspect up, is that there was close attention paid to when and how Michael got to the places he popped up in. In this film, he can be in three places at once. I’m not sure how big Haddonfield is, but I have a hard time believing that in ten minutes he can go to the electric company and take out the power, then be at the police station where he kills all the cops, and then be back at the Carruthers’ house to hide in the back of the police car.

I will give the film credit for trying its ass off to capture the suspense of the original. The film creates a slow build-up to the slaughterfest that takes place in the last twenty minutes of the film. However the buildup isn’t anywhere near as interesting as it was in the original, and the payoff seems geared more toward the gore infested hoopla that the second film doused itself in. Which in turn, the film becomes a lot less scary than it is trying so hard to be.

I also question the director Dwight Little’s use of lighting. The film is so dark toward the end that it was hard as hell to figure out what was going on most of the time. At one point I didn’t realize that they had left the Carruthers’ house and went to a school building. Everything looked the same, dark as hell.

There are some fine sequences in the film such as Michael Myers calmly rocking back and forth in a chair waiting for his next victim to pop up that give you glimpses of what worked so well in the original. And like I said, the acting is fine. Harris is great and injects Jamie with a lot of character that would carry her on to the next film, and she even got to play a completely different character from the original in Zombie’s personal “Fuck You” to Halloween fans earlier this year. Pleasance is his usual self, although some of the dialogue they made him utter was preposterous: “You talk about him as if he were a human being. That part of him died years ago.” I also found the teenagers to be less annoying than usual, Cornell and Sasha Jenson (Dazed and Confused) are especially engaging.

Still, in the end, the film is at best a noble attempt at capturing the horrors of the first film, and at worst, a bland carbon copy of the original. And speaking of the end, Halloween 4 sets up an interesting cliffhanger that while bold, makes no sense realistically. Apparently the producers thought so as well since they pretty much ignore it in Part 5. However, that last shot of Jamie in the clown suit and Donald Pleasance screaming “NO!” as the sheriff pulls the gun out of his hand is well done, and I wish the rest of the film could have had that kind of cryptic energy to it. Overall, if you’re going to watch one of the sequels, this might very well be the best of the bunch.

Follows: Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Next: Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers


Sam Loomis

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