Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Released 1988
Trancas International Films
Directed by: Dwight H. Little Running Time: 88min 1.85:1 R
Cast : Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, George P. Wilbur, Beau Starr, Kathleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson.
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After audiences spent the entirety of Halloween III asking, “where the hell is Michael Myers, and what the hell is going on?” Halloween 4 wastes no time getting him back in action.

Review by Jay Wilson
08/16/2011

Halloween 4 is just asking for trouble. The cast and crew of the original is long gone having moved on to other projects. New team. New cast. New characters. At this point in pretty much any other horror franchise, the monster has become the star, and their respective fanbases really don’t care anymore about ... anyone. The protagonist serves more of a ceremonial role than anything because, let’s face it, they are replaceable. The killer is not. In 1985, Friday the 13th test drove a substitute Jason, and the fans are still bitching to this day. Halloween tried to get rid of its killer back in 1982 with its third installment, Season of the Witch, in a noble but failed effort to turn the series into a kind of catolog of freestanding episodal halloween-related ghost stories where Michael Myers is just one of many tales. But, that didn’t go down so well either. (Maybe it had less to do with The Shape's absense and more to do with Halloween III sucking even as a standalone film. Nevermind.)

So now we’re back to Michael Myers. But unlike virtually all other slasher sequels, Halloween 4 makes a child the protagonist. The genre has conditioned us to killers stalking adults and even teenagers (read: adults posing as teenagers), but a killer stalking a child still strikes an unnerving chord in our psyche that makes us sympathize automatically. Furthermore, we meet seven year old Jamie as she stares out the window, saddened by the (unexplained) loss of her mother Laurie Strode of the first Halloween, and a few scenes later little kids at school pick on her because “Boogeyman! Boogeyman! Jamie’s uncle is the boogeyman!” It’s hard not to feel bad for the poor kid, and with those big brown adorable eyes of hers it’s hard not to like her. Thus, unlike all other slashers with the number 4 in its title, The Return of Michael Myers actually has a functional protagonist.

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If you can’t sympathize with those cute puppy dog eyes, you have no heart nor soul.

Of course, young Jamie can’t go it alone, so to look out for her is big step sister, Rachel Carruthers who has to change her plans last minute to babysit young Jamie on halloween night. Unfortunately, Michael awakens from a ten year coma, so instead of trick or treating the two step sisters will spend most of the film running for their lives. And Rachel wins sympathy points on the virtue of being Jamie’s acting guardian alone, Rachel not being a sex obsessed bimbo earns her even more, and the character being fairly well developed with her juggling duties as an older sister and her personal relationships is a bonus. So, again, Halloween 4 emerges with brand new characters the audience might actually want to see survive, and in doing so Michael remains the villain where he belongs.

And last but not least, the irreplaceable Donald Pleasance reprises his role as Doctor Sam Loomis despite blowing himself up and taking Michael with him at the end of Halloween II. Despite all logic and common sense demanding this character die (and stay dead), and despite hating other movies for less, I find his return rather charming and an overall benefit. I guess because Loomis came to represent the other half of Michael Myers, an equally insane yet benevolent force forever pursing the evil. Mr. Pleasance’s presence in Halloweens 1,2,4,5, and 6 helped link the films and ease the transition from Laurie Strode to Jamie Lloyd, and that constant presence gave the series considerable more weight than, oh let’s say, 99% of horror franchises out there. I would even venture to say that more so than Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance represented Halloween. His death after the sixth film, and the sequels that inevitably followed (one Jamie Lee Curtis inclusive) proved Halloween can live on without Laurie Strode, but it cannot live without Sam Loomis.

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There’s actually very little trick or treating in Halloweens 1&2. Having such a young protagonists finally allows a Myers-inclusive Halloween to explore that aspect of the holiday a little bit.
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If you’re going to cheat on your girlfriend, don’t do it on the night she's most likely to go door to door through your neighborhood.
That’s just stupid. Slap him, Rachel!

Halloween 4 also stands above its competition in the intelligence department. Let’s not kid ourselves, though. The movie does contain its share of idiot moments like the panicked strickened moron who takes roughly two weeks to load a shotgun, not to mention the lapse of logic where a fire extinguisher’s spray manages to stop Michael from murdering his victim. Call me crazy, but if Michael can take two bullets to the eyes and have his vision working fine two movies later, I don’t think a fire extinguisher should impact him. Period. Those glaring flaws aside, Halloween 4 does do plenty right such as when Loomis shows up, Haddonfield’s police listen and take action with the new Sheriff Meeker asking, “How do we avoid a repeat of last time?” Rachel spots Michael further on down the road, and runs like hell (no questions asked.) Once Meeker and Loomis secure Jamie and Rachel, they barricade themselves in the Sheriff’s house and break out the big guns. When that inevitably fails, they get the hell out of Haddonfield. At one point, a group of gun happy red necks go hunting for Michael since one of them lost a kid last time around and now it’s payback time. Not all the logic is sound, but at least Halloween 4 pays lip service to intelligent reactions and doesn’t just herd another bunch of dumbass oblivious camp counselors to “Lake Blood” for the seventh consecutive massacre just like the last film (and the film before that.)

One thing that’s always bugged me about Halloween 4 is the presentation and portrayal of Michael. For one, the new mask reminds me of Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and many many many times throughout the film I feel it’s overlit which makes it less interesting to look at and renders Michael less intimidating. Watch Jamie’s nightmare sequence where Michael is in shadow and then a flash of lighting momentarily illuminates him. The whole mask appears with no significant shadow or gradients, and it just looks ... bland. An irregular white blob with black eyeholes. Even in those few frames, you see more of the mask than you should. Now granted in Halloween 1, Carpenter shows the mask in broad daylight, but always at a distance. If you notice Carpenter never shows a close up until it gets dark where a sliver of light can create interesting shadows across the latex. On that white mask, a little bit of light goes a long long way.

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To be fair, Michael only appears in the mirror during a brief flash of lightning, but you can see for yourself how well lit (and mundane) it looks even in that split second.

George Wilbur dons the mask this time around, giving one of my least favorite interpretations of the Shape. Although I don’t think it’s necessarily his doing. I think because, according to various commentary and interviews on the DVD, they made Wilbur wear padding underneath the costume to make Myers appear even bigger than the stuntman playing him, and as a result the figure looks ... padded and unnatural. Almost doll like. Also because of the padding, when Wilbur moves, the body language looks more like an amusement park mascot than a human being, and Michael might be an unkillable psychopath, but he’s still human ... well, sort of.

Halloween 4 also scales up the carnage to near blockbuster proportions with a truck bursting through a garage door and a gas station blowing up—most of which I can tolerate from my expectation of sequels wanting to go bigger (I always liked the wires snapping on the nearby telephone pole after the explosion—that was a nice touch and great attention to detail). But I always have trouble swallowing Michael taking out the police station off screen. After retrieving Jamie and Rachel, Loomis and Meeker return to the police station to discover the officers—all of them—massacred. By playing that card and leaving it offscreen so our imaginations can run wild with images of Michael Myers walking through there Terminator style, it sets The Shape up as too powerful. It’s not like he has time to stalk Jamie and Rachel and wait around in the shadows to pick off every single on duty officer one at a time. And if an entire police station can’t stop him, what’s a cop, two sisters, and a doctor going to do? What’s a fire extinguisher going to do?

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Granted, Halloween H20 has the crappiest Michael Myers, but that doesn’t make this one any easier to swallow no matter how many times I see the movie.
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While having a Haddonfield aware and wary of Michael Myers does add a degree of versimilitude, it does present its own problems for the narrative such as believably getting Michael to his victims. It doesn’t always succeed, but at least Halloween 4 tries.

Despite the sequel impulse to embrace formula, a few nice moments find their way through. I like that Jamie’s halloween costume is the same one young Michael wore at the beginning of Halloween 1. My favorite part is an exchange between Loomis and Jamie towards the end. “We’ll hear some sirens soon,” Loomis says. And young Jamie asks with such innocent and childlike hope, “then we’ll be safe?” Loomis half-heartedly laughs, “yeah.” And Jamie surprises us with her perceptive response, “you don’t believe that, do you?” “No.” Towards the end, when Rachel has run over Michael, there’s a great shot where Jamie peeks over the dashboard, filling the frame with her beautiful brown eyes. And though inexplicable, and even though I should hate it, I really like the moment when Jamie goes to her fallen uncle and takes his hand. Oh, and I also love the ending which mirrors the beginning of the original Halloween.

Ultimately, Halloween 4 lives or dies on the character of Jamie and Danielle Harris’ performance. Placing everything on the acting talents of a child actor is risky considering this genre has trouble finding adult actors with talent. And if Child’s Play taught me anything, it’s that I can root for the onscreen demise of a kid if said kid’s acting grates on my nerves enough. So how did Danielle Harris do? Pretty damn good, actually.

Another thing that makes the Halloween series stand out.