Directed by: Dwight H. Little
Written by: Alan B. McElroy
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, and George P. Wilbur
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“You can’t kill damnation, mister. It don’t die like a man dies.”
While Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees had four or more sequels under their belts in 1988, after a brief cinematic absence, Michael Myers was just getting warmed up. After a public backlash to the Myers-less Halloween III: Season of the Witch, producer Moustapha Akkad decided it was probably a good idea if they returned to the original masked slasher that put the franchise on the map. With a Writers’ Guild strike only eleven days away, Akkad and director Dwight Little gave the writing duties to Alan McElroy, who reportedly turned in the final draft just hours before the Guild went on strike. This sequel would also face a different kind of pressure… fans were leery of a sequel that didn’t feature the involvement of series creator John Carpenter or Jamie Lee Curtis. Could a franchise on the ropes make a comeback with a sequel written in only eleven days? Could the series even continue at all without the key elements of John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis in the mix? Regardless of all the hurdles to overcome, Akkad gave us Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers in the Fall of 1988. I believe it was a worthwhile return.
The film opens with a very quiet and ominous title sequence, showing various shots of pitchforks, scarecrows, pumpkins, ghost decorations, bare trees, and other imagery associated with the Halloween holiday. We then cut to an ambulance pulling up to a federal sanitarium. Why are they there? To pick up silent maniac, Michael Myers, of course. When last we met Michael, he was burned extremely badly and pretty much left for dead inside Haddonfield Memorial Hospial at the end of Halloween II. As to be expected, Myers escapes and heads inexplicably toward his old stomping ground of Haddonfield. This time, however, his sister (Laurie Strode) is nowhere to be found. She allegedly died in a car crash. Laurie’s daughter, Jamie (named after Jamie Lee Curtis) now lives with a foster family in Haddonfield. If you bet against Michael coming to Haddonfield in order to kill his niece, pay up, because come for her he does…killing all who are unfortunate enough to get in his evil path.
Halloween 4 will always hold a special place in my horror-loving heart, because it was the cover story on the very first issue of Fangoria magazine that I ever bought. Before I’d even seen the first Halloween, a guy in my grade (4th at the time) brought his copy of Fango to school one day and the two of us looked through it at lunch. I’d never seen anything like it before, with all kinds of pictures from various movies, showing detailed blood and gore. It really opened my eyes. I wasn’t grossed out or afraid of it at all. I thought simply, “Cool!” Seeing Michael Myers on the front of the magazine, holding a knife as if he were going to stab me, evoked quite a reaction. Remember, I’d never even seen the first movie at this point, nor had I ever experienced Carpenter’s masterful direction or scary synth compositions. All the exposure to Michael Myers that I had was from the pictures in that issue of Fangoria, from Halloween 4. I was instantly hooked. I simply had to see that film and all that came before it as soon as possible. It was then that I went to my parents’ video store, and took the first three home. Does the phrase “absolutely terrified” mean anything to you? It did me, because upon seeing the first Halloween, I wanted nothing more to do with Michael Myers or that madman John Carpenter, and it was another couple of years before I would brave the waters again to watch 2, 3, and 4. Oh, what memories. Back when horror films could truly frighten me.
My affection for Halloween 4 isn’t entirely nostalgic, though. The film actually has a lot going for it and I feel it’s a very solid follow up to the first two Myers sagas. For one thing, I really liked the mask they used in this one. It gets a fairly mixed reaction from the Halloween fan base, but I really dug it. It doesn’t look much like the one from the first two movies, but if anything, it has an even more blank and emotionless facial expression. It was the first major horror project for director Dwight Little, and he showed that he knew how to utilize the character. Our first introduction to Myers in this film is through quick sudden appearances in Jamie’s bedroom. She is of course, having a nightmare (perhaps they were trying to steal some of Freddy’s thunder?) Though Michael isn’t as hidden in this film as he was in previous films, a lot of credit has to go to George Wilbur for making Myers as intimidating as ever. Michael is every bit as robotic and deliberately paced as he was in the first two movies and Wilbur’s unique stature and subtle, violent body language adds yet another unsettling layer to the character. Through Wilbur’s performance and Little’s direction, Myers’ reputation as the ultimate cinematic boogeyman is well preserved in this entry.
Little also knows how to get a the most suspense mileage out of his set pieces. One of the most effective sequences takes place along a rooftop. Jamie and her older foster sister, Rachel, are trying to get away from Michael, so they climb out the upstairs window and onto the roof (probably not the best of ideas, but I imagine if I were running for my life, I would probably get a little desperate). What do you know? Michael follows them to the rooftop. To those of us (like me) who fear heights, the top of a house would be a pretty scary place to be…add to that, Michael “The Shape” Myers is coming after you. All the while you scale the rooftop to keep from slipping and falling to certain death, certain walking death is creeping up behind you the entire time. It’s a lose-lose situation, and it makes for a truly intense sequence. There are other nerve-wracking scenes in the film, but I will not spoil them here. Those looking for a good thrill will not be disappointed….Unless, of course, that thrill is of the sexual nature. Despite one very promising tease of a scene, there is no nudity in the film.
Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis character has a much more active part of the story than he had in the past. In the first two films, Loomis was more or less used to set the mood, spouting chilling comments about the nature of Michael Myers and what all he could potentially do to the people of the town if he wasn’t stopped. Here, he goes into full-blown Van Helsing mode, to Michael Myers’ Dracula. He actively pursues Michael and ends up meeting up with him early in the film. Michael of course, slips away, but Loomis continues after him, more persistent than ever. Donald is always a joy to watch on film, especially as Dr. Loomis. Newcomer Ellie Cornell is quite a sweetheart in her role as Jamie’s foster sister. Jamie herself is also a newcomer, portrayed to perfection by the young Danielle Harris. Why she never found more work as a child actor, I’m not sure. Perhaps this film and its immediate follow-up type cast her, or perhaps she just grew up too fast. Regardless, she’s a true talent that shines through every scene. This film marked the first time the series used a different music composer than John Carpenter. Even the misfire, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, featured a Carpenter score. However, if they absolutely had to replace Carpenter, they couldn’t have picked anyone better than his longtime understudy, Alan Howarth. Using plenty of familiar cues and pieces from the first two films, Howarth’s first solo score for the series adds a nightmarish depth to great effect. I was disappointed when Howarth was replaced in Halloween H20 and Halloween: Resurrection and I firmly believe that they are the weakest entries in the series, as a result of his absence.
On the whole, Halloween 4 holds up rather well amongst the better entries in the series. Knowing that the film was written in only eleven days, you sure can’t tell it from the slick, finished product. It may not be the scariest, but to this day, it has some of the most nerve-rattling suspense moments of the entire series. The kills here are more violent than in previous entries, no doubt inspired by the creative bloodbaths seen in the blockbuster Friday the 13th franchise. It is rare when a sequel, in giving us new characters and situations to digest, serves as the beginning of a whole new story arc within the established continuity of a franchise. Unfortunately, the arc ended two films later, as each sequel after Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers has ignored Parts 4-6 completely. The performances on all fronts are worthwhile, the direction is top notch, the kills are vicious, and the monster is scary. What more do you need in a sequel? It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel; it’s merely trying to keep it rolling. Whether you’re a longtime fan or are just newly discovering the series, this one is a definite must-purchase. Buy it!
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