On a dark Halloween night ten years ago, Michael Myers brought fear back to his home town as he murderously stalked Laurie Strode. Terror and bloodshed ravaged the quiet neighborhood, until the killer was captured and locked up.
But tonight, as he was being transferred from Richmond Mental Institute, Michael escaped. Now he’s looking for his young niece as his reign of terror continues. Horror has returned to Haddonfield.
eyelights: Danielle Harris. the self-referential ending.
eyesores: the Jasonification of Michael Myers. its implausibility. the continuity errors.
“What is he? Tell me! What the hell are we dealing with?”
After ‘Halloween II‘, which effectively completed the story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, John Carpenter and Debra Hill decided that they wanted to take to series down a completely different path; they wanted to make each subsequent film a stand-alone picture that revolved around the theme of Hallowe’en.
Thus they produced ‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch‘, which had nothing to do with Michael Myers, and which received a critical drubbing as well as at the box office – with fans of the first two installments dismayed with its drastic departure. It would be the last ‘Halloween’ picture for over half a decade.
By the end of the ’80s, Carpenter and Hill were approached to do another Michael Myers film. With the help Dennis Etchison, Carpenter wrote a script that was a bit more supernatural, revolving around Haddonfield, which had suppressed Hallowe’en celebrations and, consequently would bring it back stronger than ever.
It was rejected.
Carpenter and Hill eventually sold their share in the franchise to producer Moustapha Akkad and he decided that he wanted to bring the return of Michael Myers to the silver screen, taking inspiration from the slasher genre – which was spawned by the original in the first place. The resulting film was ‘Halloween 4’.
This second sequel in the saga finds Michael Myers being transferred from a psychiatric institution and escaping, with the intention of returning to Haddonfield to kill his only living relative: his niece, Jamie, who has been adopted by the Carruthers after her parents died in a car crash 11 months prior.
The seven-year-old has regular nightmares of Michael, but the nightmares will become reality: despite the efforts of Dr. Loomis, who is semi-retired, Michael makes his way back to terrorize the town yet again, drawing blood everywhere he goes. By the end of his visit, well over a dozen people will get slaughtered.
I remember enjoying ‘Halloween 4’ quite a fair bit, not just when I first saw it on VHS way back in the early ’90s, but for many years afterwards. But it really hasn’t aged well. While it may be one of the better sequels in the series, it’s not an especially clever picture and it compares poorly to the first two pictures.
Part of the problem is that, in deciding to milk the cash cow, Akkad failed to consider just how important it was to explain how it was that Michael could possibly still be alive after ‘Halloween II’. And not be blind, since it was suggested that he was shot in the eyes (although I always doubted that this was the case).
He also failed to ensure that Dr. Loomis’ survival be explained, which is very problematic given that he was caught in an explosion at the end of ‘Halloween II’. Michael at least can be written off as being due to his supernatural stamina, but Dr. Loomis is a mere man. At least he’s scarred and walks with a limp, referring to the incident.
Akkad made another grievous mistake: being a producer, his main focus was to make money. And so it was that he tried to make a ‘Halloween’ movie on as little cash as possible to maximize the return on his investment – amongst other things, many sequences that were in the script were cut out due to budgetary constraints.
Finally, the biggest problem is that Michael Myers was transformed into a Jason Voorhees-like killer: Now Michael was super-strong and appeared and disappeared at random, as though teleporting – he would disappear while in full sight, sneak around a house without being seen, and appear in places he simply couldn’t be.
This makes Michael pretty much interchangeable with Jason – and that’s double trouble. Firstly, Jason is inspired by Michael, so Michael now becomes a copy of a copy – and we know how poor those are. Secondly, this means that there’s very little to distinguish the franchises, which may be part of the reason why they died out.
Too much of the same.
Director Dwight H. Little contributed little to the picture, eschewing the mood of the original film and going flat out into a slasher-style picture, with cheap scares and gruesome absurd kills to satiate fans of the genre. He also failed to make sense of some of the script, like how characters conveniently appear and disappear.
Of course, this may be blamed on the script, which begins with some cheesy one-liners that are utterly unnatural and ham-fisted exposition to re-situate audiences and set the stage. It’s quite possible that Alan B. McElroy simply didn’t think much of it through and left Little to pick up the pieces. Or maybe the editor fudged it.
Who knows. All I know is that ‘Halloween 4’ is wholly unremarkable.
Really, the only truly notable part of the picture is Danielle Harris, as Jamie. While one has to question the notion of building a horror film around a little girl who has no chance against an unstoppable killing machine, Harris is incredibly likeable and steals pretty much every scene she’s in – even though she was a neophyte.
Her instant appeal is such that you can’t help but empathize with Jamie despite the artificiality of the script, and one is willing to ignore the obvious fakery that allows Jamie to survive incessant attacks. I know for a fact that most child actors would not have had the same effect on me, and I give full credit to Harris.
Ellie Cornell plays Rachel, her adopted sister, and she grounds the picture in a way that none of the other actors do. Since she’s tied to Harris’ hip, it’s quite possible that they were just a great match: empathy and sweetness in one corner and maturity and realism in the other. Cornell is quite a good counterpart.
The picture devolves into a weird mess, with Dr. Loomis (played by a scene-chewing Donald Pleasance, returning to the role he created) and Sheriff Meeker scouring the town for Michael, after advising the townies to stay indoors, finding Rachel and Jamie, holing up at the sheriff’s place and then contending with hicks.
Michael, who somehow gets into locked and sealed spaces without making a sound, who can take down a whole police squad, who makes it down three flights of stairs in 20 seconds when no one’s watching, but walks incredibly slowly the rest of the time. Michael has become such a caricature that he’s no longer scary. He just is.
Thankfully, even though the picture devolves gradually, it ends with one of the most memorable closing moments of the whole series, and possibly in the horror genre, tying itself to the original picture in a clever way – and leaving us with enough ambiguity that we can imagine any number of potential outcomes. Nice.
But, if not for that twist and Danielle Harris’ inherent likeability, ‘Halloween 4’ would be nothing more than your average slasher fare, contrived into the ‘Halloween’ formula but shedding all of its style and skill. It’s indeed the return of Michael Myers to Haddonfield, but it’s hardly the return of ‘Halloween’.
Date of viewing: August 16, 2015