WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! DON’T SAY YOU WEREN’T WARNED!
“Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” is actually one of the best films in this long running franchise, and it did more than just drop a bunch of bloody good killings on us with little regard to everything else that makes a movie strong. There was actually some thoughtful work put into the screenplay, the acting is better than you would expect it to be, and it does have some very scary moments that the other sequels seriously lack.
The “Halloween” movies defy the timeline of events they set up for themselves because logic doesn’t always apply to horror movies. Despite the huge explosion that ended “Halloween II,” Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis somehow managed to survive. It never seemed all the bloody likely that either would come out of that without turning into shish kabobs that would have ended their respective careers for once and for all, but you can’t keep a doctor or an evil monster down.
“Halloween 4” starts off with a couple of doctors assigned to transfer the seemingly comatose Michael back to Smith’s Grove where he should have stayed. But of course, Michael wakes up and kills his naïve caretakers who think he is nothing more than just another prison transfer. These doctors also make the mistake of mentioning that Michael has one living relative left, his niece Jamie. Guess where she lives…
Going into a description of the plot is tiring, but you know what happens from there on out. “Halloween 4” is genuinely scary at points. The first appearance of Michael Myers through the reflection of the mirror definitely had me standing up straight, and childhood terrors like the monster under the bed are exploited to strong effect. The movie does play around with the clichéd moments we often find in horror movies, but then it manages to pull the rug out from under you. You think you have a good idea of what is going to happen, but the filmmakers smartly play on your misplaced confidence to pull a fast one on you.
“Halloween 4” was directed by Dwight H. Little who later went on to direct one of Steven Seagal’s best movies, “Marked for Death.” Little deserves credit for not just doing everything according to formula. What he does can’t be called groundbreaking, but he pulls off something stronger than your average slasher flick. Instead of doing the usual opening with the pumpkin, he fills the screen with symbols of the October holiday that leads us into the dead of winter. With that, he perfectly sets the mood and atmosphere for this particular sequel. He remains respectful of the original and does the right thing by keeping Michael hidden in the shadows like Carpenter did in the original. When that mask of his peeks out of the darkness, it becomes even more unnerving than watching him tilt his head.
The screenwriter for this one, Alan B. McElroy, managed to finish the script just mere hours before the writer’s strike of the 1980’s began. Listening to his audio commentary from the Anchor Bay Divimax remastered DVD, McElroy makes it clear that he came to this film as a fan of the original and was not just out to throw the usual crapfest at us. He also gives us characters that we actually come to care about and who don’t just do the usual stupid things we expect them to do when Michael Meyers is on the loose. You even find yourself caring about that hunk of man Brady (Sasha Jenson), and that’s even after we find him cheating on his girlfriend with the movie’s obligatory big breasted chick (and sheriff’s daughter no less).
One of the most important things to note about “Halloween 4” is that it was one of the last slasher movies made which featured actors who looked and felt down to earth. After that, the genre was invaded by beautiful models with bodies that were very well taken care of or surgically enhanced. Whether or not they could act was another story.
Ellie Cornell, who plays Rachel Carruthers, does Jamie Lee Curtis proud. We’re not talking an Oscar winning performance here, but she gives us the kind of heroic female character we want to root for as she goes from being vulnerable to Sigourney (“Aliens”) Weaver tough.
This one is also not as bloody or gore dependent as the other sequels came to be. Granted, there are a couple of nice gore shots inserted as Michael has become even more creative at killing people since falling into a coma. On top of him sinking his thumb into a doctor’s skull at the beginning, Michael also rips a big hole in a beer guzzling vigilante’s neck. Ouch! Actually, this does bring up a weakness in the movie which involves a subplot with these middle aged guys who are regulars at a local bar. They almost seem tossed in as an afterthought, and their own hunt with Michael leads them to do some incredibly stupid things. They end up disappearing from the movie for a while to where you almost forget they were ever in it.
Watching Danielle Harris in this one is a little weird as she has long since grown up and went on to play a completely different character in Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” movies. She plays Jamie, the daughter of Laurie Strode who was said to have been killed in a car accident along with her husband (Curtis would later return to the franchise in “H2O”). You have to admire any young actor who does a horror movie at the age of 11 because it’s like we’re asking that child to become emotionally scarred for life. On top of having a great set of lungs, Harris wins our sympathy even as the kids are incredibly mean to her at school. She also gives the movie one of its scariest images, but we’ll get back to that later.
And, of course, we have the only returning actor from the original “Halloween,” the late Donald Pleasence. Having miraculously survived the fiery explosion that flat out should have killed him (were a highly profitable box office possibility not taken into consideration), Dr. Loomis has become almost as single minded in his pursuit to end the evil that is Michael Myers as Michael is in killing everyone in Haddonfield. Even if Pleasance was really slumming by doing this movie, he still played this role to the hilt and gave this particular entry a legitimacy which eluded future installments. Heck, it probably would have been criminal to do a “Halloween” movie without Dr. Loomis, for he was as essential to this franchise as Michael Myers was. Looking at Pleasence’s face in the movie’s last moment (we’ll get to that later), he makes you feel Loomis’ horror as he comes to the horrifying realization that evil never really does die.
Actually, there is another “Halloween” veteran who returns to the fold here, and that is Alan Howarth. Along with Carpenter he scored the last two entries, and the two of them also provided great scores for “Prince of Darkness” and “Big Trouble in Little China.” Howarth goes solo on this one, but even without Carpenter he turns out a memorable and atmospheric score and his opening theme to “Halloween 4” is one of the best pieces of music from the franchise.
Stunt performer George Wilbur plays Michael Myers in this sequel, and he does good work here. While no one can touch what Nick Castle did in the original, it’s nice to see a Michael that is a little more mobile than Dick Warlock’s in “Halloween II.” Wilbur doesn’t really bring anything new to the role, but he does give Michael a formidable look that strikes terror in us even when this murderous character is not onscreen. The thought of Michael Myers in this one is just as scary as seeing these characters come face to face with him (or it as Dr. Loomis describes him):
“You’re talking about him as if he were a man. That part of him died years ago.”
“Halloween 4” is in many ways the slasher movie you expect to see, but the filmmakers involved in its making were not just doing this one for the paycheck. There was a strong effort made to be respectful of the original and it shows. This sequel succeeded in reinvigorating the franchise which took a big beating after the previous Michael Myers-less entry, “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.”
DANGER! DANGER! SPOLIERS AHEAD!!!
Now is the time to talk about the ending of “Halloween 4.” Michael has been shot dozens and dozens of times in a scene that feels lifted from “Predator” with Schwarzenegger and company blasting a forest to waste with their massive weaponry. Everyone is back home and safe, but then a scream erupts from upstairs. Loomis runs up to find that Jamie has stabbed her stepmother with a pair of scissors and is covered in blood, looking much like the young Michael Myers did after he murdered his sister. Like Pleasance, you find yourself screaming “NOOOOOO!!!!!!” Harris holding those scissors ranks as one of the series’ most chilling moments. Indeed, the corruption of innocence is a terror that can be all too real onscreen as well as off it.
Now this could have led the series in another direction, but the producers pussied out of letting Michael’s niece become the new killer and instead found a way (they always do) to bring Michael back from the dead yet again. Perhaps the late Moustapha Akkad (RIP), having seen the damage done by “Halloween III,” felt that the fans would never accept any killer other than Michael himself. Look, it’s not like anyone was begging to see that horrendously annoying Silver Shamrock song brought back for future installments, but this brilliant plot twist could have made the series even more frightening than ever before. But the profit motive always seems to win out in franchises like these, and that’s a crying shame.