In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
In anticipation of the upcoming sequelboot of the Halloween franchise, in which every entry but the first are to be eliminated from canon, I decided to give one last look at the whole series before it is banished into the Soul Stone for good. As it currently stands, the Halloween series has a pretty crazy continuity, complete with alternate endings, ridiculous retcons, and an unrelated anthology entry about magic masks that fill kids’ heads with bugs. There’s a reboot and a sequel to the reboot, both of which have multiple conflicting endings of their own as well. It’s a glorious mess, so there’s really no reason to treat any future story developments as anything out of the ordinary. No, Michael Myers has never made it to outer space, nor has he dueled with another horror heavy (although Halloween vs Hellraiser did almost happen) but he’s certainly been around the block enough times to merit an investigation into just what has kept this killer alive for so long, and just why we are now throwing most of his work in the canonical trash. I will be watching the entire series in order of release, starting with John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 classic which, for my money, remains one of the finest fright films ever made. Check out the whole series here!
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
“Ten years ago he changed the face of Halloween. Tonight, HE’S BACK.”
Director: Dwight H. Little
Writer: Dhani Lipsius, Larry Ratner, Benjamin Ruffner, Alan B. McElroy
Stars: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, Kathleen Kinmont, Gene Ross, Carmen Filpi
Michael Myers played by: George P. Wilbur, who wore hockey pads so as to not look silly and tiny like the last guy.
Plot: Ten years after the tragic events of Halloween 1978, the residents of Haddonfield are once again under threat. Michael Myers has awoken from a coma and made his way back home, this time with the intention of killing Laurie Strode’s young daughter.
Review:Halloween 4 takes an odd tone. We’re reaching the end of the 1980s, which means that the bulk of our slasher media is behind us. 1988 brought us the eighth entry in Friday the 13th, the fourth in A Nightmare on Elm Street, and just about every other adjacent slasher knock-off is long since fallen out due to changes in taste. The tone of Halloween 4 is a little bit closer to what we see in the subdued teen slashers of the 90s than the excessive ones of the 80s. Nudity is no longer in vogue, nor is super explicit violence, and it left me plenty of brain space to wonder why it even needs to exist. Furthermore, I am now wondering just what it is about slashers that keep me coming back. Is it the violence? The sex? The story? Hard to say since this entry is lacking in all three items. This isn’t to say that Michael Myers isn’t involved in some seriously deranged carnage, or that the teenaged victims aren’t sexualized, but most of it occurs in cutaway.
It even looks different. The cinematography is similar to that of Chuck Russell’s remake of The Blob, featuring a wealth of aggressively backlit trees – beams of intense blue light spotlighting from behind shadow. We’re entering the Dimension FIlms era (horror hounds will know exactly what I mean). Slashers have stopped being products of independent companies and started to become products of larger studios. You can thank the insane marketability of Freddy Krueger for this development. But where Freddy and Jason differ from Michael Myers is that even by the 4th entry in the Halloween franchise, Myers still isn’t framed as a beloved antihero like his killer colleagues. We’re not here to root for him in the same ways we do for Jason. It’s difficult to tell if the franchise is even attempting to evoke such a thing. Myers has become a more creative killer for sure, which can be chalked up to his time spent in a coma (he was planning!), but we’re still squarely on the side of his potential victims. This leads to Halloween 4 being a bit bland. It feels stuck between eras; between styles; between tones.
Even so, there is a lot of fun to be had here. There are multiple threads being tugged at once, parallel to the first two Halloween flicks. We’ve got Loomis once again on a double mission of hunting down his patient while trying to convince local authorities that he is indeed a threat. We’ve got Young Jamie (Laurie Strode’s unexplained daughter) dealing with the emotional fallout of her lineage. We’ve got a handful of teens trying to entertain themselves on Halloween night at the behest of stuffy authority figures. And we’ve got a lynch mob of local boys on a violent mission to kill Michael Myers, discretion be damned. At a clean 88 minutes, it doesn’t leave much time for extraneous material, even if what we see on screen doesn’t pop as much as it should.
The retcon employed to explain the survival of both Loomis and Myers after being killed is rather simple, and it works just fine. They survived the hospital explosion and now they each have burned flesh on their bodies. That’s it.
More interesting is the ever-increasing notion that Myers is more than human. The mad declarations of Loomis have always read as just that – mad declarations of an increasingly unhinged man. He sounds like a guy who is overstating the inhumanity of his patient in order to get a legitimate response from the authorities, but as we move deeper in the series, it’s starting to feel more literal. Once character notes that Myers shouldn’t be able to move, let alone crush the skulls of his victims given that spending ten years in a coma would leave anyone’s muscles in a state of advanced atrophy, yet here he is, stalking and slashing with little effort. Even his “death” at the end is given a supernatural flair. After eating hundreds of bullets, he falls into an open mineshaft and is presumed dead “Michael Myers is in hell,” says Loomis, wistfully, “buried, where he belongs.” It’s your typical “and that’s the end of that chapter” non-ending that is cathartic enough to be a functioning denouement but ambiguous enough to keep the franchise alive. And it’s our faith in Myer’s innate ability to survive anything that gives future Halloween helmers license to pretty much do anything.
Another weird thing that seems supernatural, but is probably more indicative of somewhat shoddy filmmaking (or at least filmmaking without forethought) is the way that Jamie’s early hallucinations of Michael Myers are shot in a way that defies their hallucinatory nature. What I mean is that there’s dramatic irony on a moment by moment basis where we see Myers stalking the young girl while she is entirely unaware. We then find out that he’s just a hallucination. Odd, then, that she would see things in such a way. Basically, the film is straight up lying to us in order to produce a scare. It’s not a complaint, really, since it’s effective in the moment, but it doesn’t hold up to logistical scrutiny.
Danielle Harris is exceptional as young Jamie in a way that is not often seen in child actors (especially in horror). When she is in peril, she looks legitimately terrified, behaving in ways that real kids do. When she loses her mind and becomes a killer herself, it’s believable. It makes sense in the realm of the story and not just as a cheap tag upon which to roll credits. This is due partially to a pretty solid arc on paper, helped into life by a downright creepy character turn for young Harris. Good work kid. They even re-use the POV concept from the opening of Halloween during Jamie’s kill. Super cool.
The music is pretty minimal, with Alan Howarth returning as the sole composer. Mostly, it’s just the same Halloween music we all know and love, toned down a bit so as to be less intrusive (probably a bad idea). There is a fun moment where it is given a rolling snare drum background to make it play as a military march during the first sequence involving the lynch mob. Otherwise, it is pretty basic.
Overall, this is a solid entry in the series, especially if we consider how much weight it had to pull in getting things back into the world of Michael Myers. Still, it’s the weakest entry so far due to the variance in tone. It really does feel like a film torn between identities, so much so that’s its inability to commit to any one, makes its partial committal to each feel half-baked. Whatever. A dude gets a thumb mashed into his skull, which is incredible.
Best Kill: In a throwback to the best kill from the original film, Michael Myers uses a shotgun to pin Kelly Meeker to the wall of her home. He doesn’t shoot her first either. He just stabs her through the stomach and into the wall with the barrel of the gun. She’s even wearing a similar shirt to that of her Halloween counterpart. Check it out:
I should note that throughout the bulk of the movie she is pantsless and wearing a t-shirt which reads “Cops do it by the book” which is a little gross because her dad is the sheriff (and he threatens to kill a kid who wants to have sex with his daughter). The film’s strange, cleaned-up smuttiness is even creepier than if it were explicitly smutty.
Best Line: Sheriff Ben Meeker is attempting to calm a mob of locals, led by Earl, as they prepare to enact torch mob justice.
Sheriff: Let it be, Earl. Let the police handle this.
Earl: Like the last time? How many people killed back then? How many kids?
Unnamed Man: Al here lost his boy 10 years back!
Earl: Well not this time, Ben. I’ll handle this my own way… we’re gonna fry his ass!” ::cocks shotgun::
Worst Line: Upon attempting to shoot a lock open with a gun and failing, Brady yells: “Goddamn it! It’s METAL!”
Mask: Michael Myers obtains a new mask at a local shop, so it stands to reason that it is of a slightly different design than in the original film, while also looking brighter and newer. It doesn’t match the mask on the poster at all, but that’s a good thing, as the mask used in the film doesn’t look nearly as scary and wouldn’t work very well as a marketing image. What doesn’t add up is why this mask would still be available at Haddonfield stores. You’d think that in a town defined by the historical rampage of a masked murderer would avoid restocking this item. You’d also wonder why the mask company would continue to mass produce it. Certainly it could be obtained as a custom design, but to be produced so much that it can be found haphazardly piled amongst the seasonal items of a pharmacy just seems ridiculous. It’s got a slightly better look than the one in Halloween 2 (but I may be biased because this Myers is almost back to full size, thanks to those hockey pads). There is one scene in which an alternate mask is used (reshoots?), and it’s noticeable because it has blonde hair. What the hell?
Dr. Loomis’ Health: Considering he has been canonically dead for the past decade, I’d say he’s looking pretty good. As for his mental health, well, things are looking bleak. While Loomis does indeed seem to have had some sort of reckoning with the fact that his reckless methods for containing Myers were directly responsible for Ben Tramer’s death in Halloween 2, he still has a habit of acting before thinking. For example, it is Loomis’ irresponsible announcement that Myers has returned to town that emboldens the vigilante mob to execute an innocent man. As for Pleasence, he’s 68 here, just 7 years shy of death, and even without the prosthetic burns on his face, he looks considerably older than that. That said, he’s really good in this. This being his third outing as Loomis has clearly given the actor more material from which to draw upon to create a character, which is usually a liability for sequelized side characters. But in this case, he brings a pathos and madness to Loomis that feels natural to the character.
Lore: A this point in the series, Laurie Strode has died in a car accident, and her daughter, having now survived Michael Myers’ lightest reign of terror, is now a murderer herself. I do not recall if there is any detail as to who young Jamie’s father is, but it really doesn’t matter at this point. Her relation to Laurie/Myers is hardly rooted in character so much as in plot. This is simply a reason for a child to be running from a killer. Easy peasy. The town of Haddonfield has come to be defined by the events of Halloween night 1978, so much so that teens pull pranks based on the lore. Outside of that, this doesn’t really push things too far forward in the storyline of Michael himself. He’s back in the franchise for better or worse, and now it seems any string will be pulled to keep it that way.