Seven more days till… Halloween 4 : The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

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“Apocalypse, End of the World, Armageddon. It’s always got a face and a name. I’ve been huntin’ the bastard for 30 years, give or take. Come close a time or two. Too damn close! You can’t kill damnation, Mister. It don’t die like a man dies.”

- Jack Sayer, while sharing a drink with Sam Loomis.

After the bold box office failure that was Halloween III : Season of the Witch, the producers of the series scrambled to get their golden goose back on track. While the idea of a Myers-less Halloween had seemed like a brave idea, the films’ financial and critical disappointment was a hard pill to swallow.
One thing was for sure : audiences wanted more Michael Myers!

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Rushed to release to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the now-classic original, Halloween 4 continued the trend of many behind the scenes voices guiding the direction of the films. John Carpenter and Debra Hill were initially brought on to return the film to its roots, with Carpenter as writer/director and Hill once again as producer. Carpenter teamed up with horror author Dennis Etchison to pen a script, and the wheels were in motion for Michael’s murderous return to his hometown.

According to Etchison, the story would have followed a more “supernatural” storyline, which seems in line with Carpenter’s original plans for the series. In an interview, Etchison says, “Halloween was banned in Haddonfield and I think that the basic idea was that if you tried to suppress something, it would only rear its head more strongly. By the very attempt of trying to erase the memory of Michael Myers, the teenagers were going to ironically bring him back into existence.”

Making a name for himself under the psuedonym Jack Martin, Etchison had already penned the novelizations for Halloween 2 and 3.  Teaming with Carpenter for a new vision of The Shape seemed to be an excellent idea, but something went very wrong behind the scenes. The producers quickly rejected the script for being “too cerebral”, and this rejection led to Carpenter and Hill leaving the project (and ultimately the series), selling their interest in Halloween for good.

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With producer Moustapha Akkad finally taking ownership of the rights and complete control over the direction of the series, he set about constructing his ideal sequel, bringing in director Dwight H Little and screenwriter Alan B. McElroy. With a writer’s strike looming, the script was completed in just eleven days, and ultimately gave us what Akkad refers to as “the most successful” of the Halloween films.

While it might have been the most successful financially, the film itself is not without it’s problems. For one thing, scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis is nowhere to be seen (other than a few keepsakes and photos), and the focus is suddenly shifted to her orphaned daughter when we learn that Laurie died in a tragic car accident years before.

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Her daughter Jamie Lloyd, played by fresh-faced future scream queen Danielle Harris, is living with an adopted family, blissfully unaware of her murderous uncle. In an exposition-heavy opening scene, we see Michael Myers making his move for freedom during an ill-advised patient transfer in the middle of a rainy night on the eve of Halloween.

Donald Pleasence is back in pursuit, with some minor burn scars from being exploded way back in part 2, more frantic than ever as he makes his way back to Haddonfield. Loomis knows that Michael is “evil on two legs”, and goes above and beyond the call of duty to stop him.

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The problem is that everything feels so rushed and contrived, and we as an audience are asked to just accept some odd connections and motivations. The family connections never sat well with me in the first place, as I always preferred the original version of Myers as an unstoppable unexplainable killing machine. The afterthought addition first introduced in part 2 connecting Laurie and Michael always seemed forced to begin with, and the rushed explanation of Laurie’s death in this sequel are jarring and honestly kind of offensive. So, we are supposed to believe that our sweet “final girl” immediately got knocked up after getting out of the hospital, then died unceremoniously in a random car accident?

But, if you can let all of that go, there are some fun thrills and kills to be had in this sequel, as Michael rampages his way back home, and a group of hicks, teenagers and cops team up with ol’ Doc Loomis to fight him off. The late 80s teenager characters are charming and it is fun to watch them get murdered. Danielle Harris is great as little Jamie, and Pleasence rants and raves with the best of them. The climactic scenes are fantastic, as Jamie and her adopted sister scramble to escape Michael on a rooftop, then lead him to his dramatic death, shot to bits by rednecks and lost down a mine shaft.
The final scenes are also excellent and one of the only unique ideas in the whole film, as somehow Michael transfers his evil to his niece, and we see her murder her adoptive mother with a pair of scissors in a nice first person homage to the original. Also, Loomis’ reaction here is priceless, as he instantly draws his gun and breaks down with frustration just before the credits roll.
It is unfortunate that this story thread was unceremoniously abandoned in the next film, as it could have made for an interesting new take on the mythology.

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Overall, Halloween 4 is a fun watch with a really good cast. While the tone is inconsistent at times and some shots are jarringly strange (how did no one notice the Myers mask had blonde hair in that school scene?), it definitely gives those who were clamoring for more Michael after part 3 what they wanted. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or do anything revolutionary, but is a solid slasher sequel that cemented Michael Myers as a true icon of modern horror.

This new edition collected in the box set unfortunately contains no special features, and has a strange audio sync issue about halfway through the film. Anchor Bay has offered up replacement discs to those who bought the set early and have since promised the discs will be corrected.
Although this disc is the sparsest, not even offering any feature commentaries, the new set does come with a bonus disc which contains two documentaries about the making of the fourth film. (FYI the bonus disc is packaged with Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2, so purists might not even be aware where to find it!)


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