After everyone wrongly rejected Halloween 3 Season of the Witch for not having Michael Myers in it, the Halloween franchise went into a dormant state. Obviously this wasn’t a bad idea as a) Halloween is an out and out classic and cannot be beaten so why even try and b) Michael Myers isn’t known as The Shape for nothing – he is just a lump, a physical embodiment of evil sure, but what really could one do with the character? (Pretty sure John Carpenter knew this hence his lack of involvement with the series after 3) However, several years later the Friday the 13th producers were still bashing out Jason Voorhees sequels which proved that personality counts for nothing. So in 1988 it was time to dust off the William Shatner mask and send Michael out for another killing spree in Haddonfield, Illinois.
By 1988 the eighties horror boom was in full swing. Jason was fighting a Carrie rip off in Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood and Freddy was turning teens into cockroaches in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Actually thinking about it the horror genre was in decline creativity, it just didn’t know it. Into this climate of increasingly silly slasher movies staggered Michael Myers and I, for one, never bothered with Halloween 4 because there was so much over guff out there I just couldn’t handle any more disappointment. As it turns out this is a remarkably solid entry in the slasher series. Certainly better than Part 2 which is so boring even the lead character is asleep for most if it.
Michael Myers escapes from his confines once again and heads back to Haddonfield, this time to kill Laurie Strode’s daughter, Jamie. Also again Doctor Loomis is hot in his trail telling anyone who will listen what an enormous prick Michael is. Let’s face facts here. It is exactly the same plot as the first film. I was having this conversation with the lovely May the other day after watching the new Alien: Covenant trailer. “it’s the same story again,” May correctly stated.”A bunch of people in a spaceship land on a planet where something awful has happened before and then it happens to them. It’s the same as Prometheus!” And Alien I pointed out and indeed Aliens. Yes all this is true and there is certainly an argument in saying lets do something different. However when the Alien franchise has tried something else they ended up with the troubled Alien 3 or the disastrous Alien Resurrection. Maybe it is best to just stick to what works in a franchise, plot wise, and just have variations within that framework. This sounds like what the current producers of the Friday the 13th movies have forgotten: they’re stuck in an endless none development of a new Friday movie (eight years and counting) with found footage ideas and origin stories because they have forgotten that what works about those films IS the simplicity of it all: a bunch of teens get murdered by Jason in the woods.
It’s the same with Michael Myers. All he wants to do is go home! Series producer Moustapha Akkad knew this so he repeats the beats of the first film and together with director Dwight H. Little makes a decent stab at things. So to speak.
It helps that everyone takes things seriously. Donald Pleasence is back as Loomis, still wild eyed and crazy although bless him he was 68 when this was made and he does seem a little tired at times. Especially now Loomis seems to be in full action mode – diving out if the way of exploding petrol stations and getting thrown through doors. Whatever, Pleasence was the kind of actor who you could rely on to add a touch of class to any film he appeared in. Go knows you needed that in the eighties when teens seemed to be cast in horror movies for their hair and willingness to take their tops off. Fortunately the teens hijinks here are kept to a minimum. The only one of any real consequence is Rachel (Ellie Cornell) who is looking after young Jamie and is basically battered about by everyone else emotionally and Michael physically until she has had enough and (spoiler) drives over the fucker.
Jamie herself is played by Danielle Harris in her first role. Harris has gone into have a long and successful career, mostly fighting monsters, and you can see why here. A tiny, big eyed moppet, Jamie might be the most traumatised child in horror. She starts off having visions of the “nightmare man” and then is rejected by her adoptive sister, mocked for being an orphan by her school peers (children really are awful sometimes) before being stalked by a six foot two madman in a boiler suit who turns out to be her uncle. It’s not surprising that most of Harris’s performance consists of crying. But she does cry REALLY well. Certainly better than teens like Brady and Kelly who struggle with walking let alone showing any emotion. In fact poor Jamie has only one scene where she even smiles and that’s when she’s offered some ice cream, which never even gets. It makes me want to cry.
Anyway, events go at a decent pace and I didn’t get bored which is saying a lot. As much as I love the slasher genre, and I do love it, I cannot deny that most if them are incredible dull. Not so Halloween 4. It doesn’t take Michael long to get back to Haddonfield and he’s soon stolen a new Shatner mask, killed an entire police department and turned off the whole electricity grid by throwing an engineer at it. It fact it is remarkable how quickly Michael gets about Haddonfield. He’s at the grid at one point and then at Kelly’s house in the next shot. Either he has got some serious wheels we haven’t seen or Haddonfield is tiny. Still it helps keep things moving. In fact there’s a lot going on here: the police station massacre (sadly off screen) a chase in an abandoned school, car chases, redneck lynching mobs, Michael Myers lookalikes, explosions, a thumb in the forehead and a really decent set piece on the roof of Kelly’s house. Dwight H. Little keeps things coming at you right up to the twist ending which if you think about it is absolutely nonsensical but I kind of liked it all the same. He also wisely keeps as much of the classic John Carpenter theme in the film as possible which can make any scene feel tense.
If there is a problem it is as I mentioned before – the actual return if Michael Myers shows what a non personality he is. He really IS just a shape. You can give Michael all the relatives you want but when it boils down to it he’s just a figure in a boiler suit. He makes Jason seem like a charismatic life of the party. That’s not to say that that blank masked face isn’t creepy but really, if it wasn’t for Loomis telling us how evil he is he could almost just disappear before our eyes, like he did at the end of the original film.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers ultimately was a welcome return. Not necessarily because of the title character but it was a well made and serious entry in the slasher genre when the rest of its peers were getting increasingly stupid. I’m not sure Halloween stayed this way though, later films had Myers cult worshippers, mysterious men in black and Coolio, but for now the franchise was back on track.