Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Halloween 4 poster


Tagline: Horror has returned to Haddonfield.
Director: Dwight H. Little
Writers: Dhani Lipsius (story), Larry Ratner (story), Benjamin Ruffner (story), Alan B. McElroy (screenplay)
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, George P. Wilbur, Michael Pataki, Beau Starr, Katheleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson, Gene Ross
18 | 1hr 28min | Horror
Budget: $5,000,000

Review



After a seven year hiatus Michael Myers is back — or ten years as the plot of this instalment would have you believe. In 1982, the scourge of Haddonfield was put on the shelf in favour of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The plan was to release a new film every year under the guise of the original franchise. Each movie would have a new story and cast of characters, allowing arguably the most iconic killer in horror to slip into obscurity and retire with the kind of dignity Carpenter’s baby deserved. But money talks and evil walks, so it was only inevitable that our killer’s corpse would be dredged from the dark swamps of legend, dragging the cash-strapped Donald Pleasence along for the ride. The horror icon would star alongside his most formidable adversary twice more before his death in 1995, the last of those films being the wretchedly incomprehensible sixth instalment Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, a title that harboured more than a hint of irony.

Myers has proven a difficult character to handle over the years, which is presumably why Carpenter was unwilling to make a sequel until the slasher boom he ironically inspired inevitably forced his hand. The mostly loyal but wholly unnecessary Halloween II, a direct extension of the original narrative that transformed Michael’s sparse 91 minutes of terror into a 183-minute slog, was finally released in 1981 in response to the recently released Friday the 13th Part 2, which introduced the presumed-dead Jason as its star attraction. Myers was a character who thrived on mystique and Halloween II was guilty of the usual sequel sins, with a returning cast who were forced into making senseless mistakes and the inevitable overexposure of out marquee killer. But Halloween II‘s worst crime was its attempts to compete with the likes of mainstream rival Jason Voorhees, who instead of suffering from such overexposure works as more-of-the-same, self-aware trash. The original Myers was too precious a character to subject to such flagrant and heartless commercialism. Or so you’d have hoped.

Halloween 4 Pleasence
Donald’s trust in movie producers would diminish dramatically.

Compared with subsequent sequels, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is passable as a by-the-numbers slasher that would at least stick to the basics for the most part. Still, the movie is a mixed bag, a confused production that was a victim of late ’80s genre expectation. It is not a terrible movie, and as far as he is able director Dwight Little stays true to Carpenter’s vision, retaining the slow-building, autumnal vibe of the original until all-out mayhem inevitably ensues. It’s difficult to gauge how much of this was down to Little himself, but there are moments to suggest that the director had an appreciation for what separated Halloween from its sleazy Friday the 13th imitators.

By this point the ‘Friday’ franchise had been smart enough to reinvent itself, a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek meta humour keeping the series semi-relevant in an era when graphic violence had become a no-no in horror circles. Perhaps at the behest of those in charge, Halloween 4 quickly lays waste to its fine early work by descending into a Voorhees-style massacre, one which plunders on without even a hint of the self-referential. Like Jason before him, Myers is transformed from the nigh-on-impossible to the downright unbelievable—and to the movie’s detriment. For the first time in the series, the Myers character seems like a cheap imitation of someone else in the kind of money-oriented irony that only Hollywood seems capable of.

Halloween 4 mask
Awww, ain’t he sweet!

No longer does our ethereal psychopath cling to the shadows. Instead we spend an inordinate amount of time staring at his bumbling frame, the gaunt inhumanity of his original mask replaced with something akin to a cute smile. All of this serves to cheapen the character’s menace, and the thespian skills of Pleasence border on parody amidst such a shallow formula. While the original pitted an inimitable evil against a determined nemesis, forging a unique and engrossing bond that left audiences watching on like a cockheaded puppy, their battle seems somewhat tacked-on here, a sideshow for the main event of standardised slaughter.

The plot itself is as thin as any slash-and-scream fodder. In a rather remarkable stroke of coincidence the authorities have scheduled a patient transfer ten years to the day of the original Haddonfield massacre, a fact that the senselessly unrestrained Myers takes full advantage of. After laying waste to an unnecessary amount of bystanders, Michael then goes in pursuit of his niece, Jamie (Harris), a child he has never met and who he presumably has no knowledge of. Not unless someone in the nest of his deep seclusion had taken the ill-judged step of informing him, but I don’t envision Myers being too much of a conversationalist.

Michael Myers
Here, let me fix your neck for you.

It’s quite the tragedy, then, that Halloween 4 could and should have been a very different movie. In fact, the original screenplay, which there were three drafts of, was centred on the now teenage Tommy and Lindsey, whose babysitting adventures a decade prior had left quite the indelible mark. Dennis Etchison, a writer who had already penned the novelisations of The Fog and the first two Halloween sequels, had once again been recruited by Carpenter and long-time colleague Debra Hill, and he had been thrilled to finally be involved in the cinematic side of things. In his movie, Halloween had been banned in Haddonfield and was no longer recognised as a holiday. “The whole idea was repression versus acknowledging the bad things in the world,” the writer would explain in an interview with Blumhouse back in 2017. Of course, Myers would only be too happy to give everyone a stark reminder of what they’d been missing.

In the end, the screenplay was nixed, investors hiring several writers to rework the original idea, which is indicative of the muddled final product, the kind we’d be seeing more of in the ensuing years as the money men attempted to tap into that old financial magic. Hours after picking up the final retyping of his screenplay, Etchison would receive a rather blunt and unexpected phone call from Hill, in which she informed him, “I just wanted to tell you, John and I have sold our interest in the Halloween franchise and unfortunately your script was not part of the deal.”

Halloween 4
Halloween 4: The Broadway Musical.

Having enjoyed his time working with Carpenter, this must have come as something of a surprise to Etchison, but the writer would allay fans’ fears by absolving the legendary director of any blame. “He’s the last honest man,” he would say of Carpenter. “A straight arrow. I’ve seen him a few times over the years since, and I did an interview with him that was published, and he is the best guy I’ve ever known and worked with in Hollywood. He is 100% honest, loyal and true. He doesn’t lie. He doesn’t cheat people. His goal is to make good films.”

But business is business, and as usual it is the fans who end up footing the bill. What we get instead of Etchison and Carpenter’s intriguing developments is the beginning of the whole Jamie saga, who would go from potential Myers substitute to telepathic mental case, with a hefty dash of pseudo-paganism thrown into the mix, and it all began with Halloween 4. As the movie transpires, Jamie is plagued by dreams of a man she has never met, and when a zillion-and-one bodies turn up in Haddonfield, Dr. Loomis’ suspicions of a family reunion are quickly realised. The problem is, healthcare corporate are sick and tired of the Doc’s Shakespearean ravings, and it is left to a band of pot-bellied vigilantes to rid the once quiet suburb of its inhuman curse forever.

The best of luck to you, fellers. You’re going to need it!

Best Kill


Somehow boarding a speeding pick-up truck unnoticed, the colossal, cute-faced Myers decimates an entire clan of beer-bellied locals before reaching into the vehicle and tearing out the unsuspecting driver’s throat, taking the movie’s body count into the mid 20s.

Most Absurd Moment


Fleeing to the attic with Jamie, a terrified Rachel attempts to stop our deranged killer in his tracks, blocking the stairway with a bunch of empty cardboard boxes. If the cast of the original film had been so resourceful, perhaps all of this carnage could have been avoided!

Most Absurd Dialogue


Coming to the aid of jilted love interest Rachel, cheating douchebag Brady (Jenson) takes a moment to clear up matters.

Brady: ‘What’s going on?’

Rachel: (comforting Jamie) ‘Michael Myers!’

Brady: ‘Who?!’

Forget it, dipshit!


The Return of Michael Myers logo


★★★☆☆

A sour brew of studio bastardisation, Halloween 4 is the brainchild of lousy corporate parenting. Left to his own devices, director Little might have contributed something worthy of the original’s legacy, but the movie’s inability to mesh the Myers ethos with the smash-mouth formula of his most famous imitator proves devastating to the franchise. Still, as a standalone slasher it is not without its charms, and the return of The Shape after a six-year hiatus is a more than welcome treat.




Written by Edison Smith Editor-in-Chief

Science Fiction Writer, Horror Enthusiast, Scourge of Plutocracy, Creator of vhsrevival.com

2 comments

  1. Great review!I enjoyed this one despite its many faults.It is nowhere near as good as the first three but I have a fondness for the Halloween franchise and I would watch this again!!

    Like

  2. Hi, Amanda.

    Good to hear from you.

    Friday the 13th would cleverly reinvent itself as meta-humour following A New Beginning, turning Jason into the Roger Moore of the slasher genre as a way to sidestep the MPAA’s censoring onslaught.

    Myers would go the same way here. Producers really had no choice if they were to salvage their marquee attraction and keep the lolly rolling in. It’s ironic that the franchise would be forced to imitate the same ‘Friday’ series which had used the original Halloween as its template.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the review.

    Thanks for reading!

    Like

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