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 which makes a movie strong. There was actually some thoughtful work put into the screenplay, the acting is better than you might expect it to be, and it does have some very scary moments the other sequels seriously lack.
The “Halloween” movies often defy the timeline of events they set up for themselves because logic doesn’t always apply to horror movies. Despite the huge explosion which ended “Halloween II,” Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis somehow managed to survive. It never seemed likely either of them would have come out of the burnt wreckage without turning into shish kabobs which were left on the barbecue for far too long, but this sequel shows 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 from the beginning. 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 how 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 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 accomplishes here isn’t groundbreaking for the horror genre, 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 which eventually 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 writer, Alan B. McElroy, managed to finish the script just mere hours before the 1980’s writer strike began. Listening to his audio commentary from the Anchor Bay release, McElroy makes it clear he came to this film as a fan of the original and was not about to throw the usual crapfest at us. He also gives us characters we actually come to care about and who don’t always do the stupid things we expect them to do in the average horror flick. You even find yourself caring about that hunk of a man Brady (Sasha Jenson) even after we find him cheating on his girlfriend with the movie’s obligatory big breasted lady (who also happens to be the sheriff’s daughter no less).
In retrospect, “Halloween 4” was one of the last slasher movies which featured actors who looked and felt down to earth. After this sequel, the genre was invaded by beautiful models with bodies very well taken care of or surgically enhanced. Whether or not they could act was another story, one which usually didn’t matter to the financiers.
This one is also not as bloody or gory as the other sequels came to be. Granted, there are a couple of nice bloody shots which illustrate how creative Michael is at killing people after coming out of a long coma. On top of sinking his thumb into a doctor’s skull, he also rips a big hole in a beer guzzling vigilante’s neck. Actually, this does bring up a weakness in the movie which involves a subplot with a bunch of middle aged guys who are regulars at a local bar. They almost seem tossed in as an afterthought, and their own hunt for Michael leads them to do the dumbest things.
Watching Danielle Harris here is a little weird as she has since grown up and gone 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 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 them to become emotionally scarred for life. On top of having a great set of lungs, Harris instantly wins our sympathy gives this movie one of its scariest images.
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 heroic female character we want to root for as she goes from being vulnerable to Sigourney (“Aliens”) Weaver tough.
And, of course, we have the only returning actor from the original “Halloween,” the late Donald Pleasence. Having miraculously survived the fiery explosion which should have killed him were a highly profitable box office possibility not taken into consideration, Dr. Loomis has become absolutely single minded in his pursuit to destroy Michael once and for all. Even if Pleasance was 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 at that point as he was an essential part of this franchise.
Actually, there is another “Halloween” veteran who returns to the fold here: Alan Howarth. Along with Carpenter he scored “Halloween II” and “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” and they 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 composes a memorable and atmospheric score, and his opening theme to “Halloween 4” is one of the best pieces of music in the franchise.
Stunt performer George Wilbur plays Michael here, and he does good work as the heavy-breathing killer. While no one can touch what Nick Castle did in the original, it’s nice to see a Michael who more mobile than Dick Warlock’s was in “Halloween II.” Wilbur gives Michael a formidable look which 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.”
DANGER! DANGER! SPOLIERS AHEAD!!!
Now let’s talk about Halloween 4’s” ending. Michael has been shot dozens and dozens of times in a scene which reminded me of the scene from “Predator” when Schwarzenegger and company blasted 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 Jamie has stabbed her stepmother with a pair of scissors and is covered in blood, looking much like young Michael did after murdering 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 franchise in an inspired direction, but the producers wussied out and instead found a way (they always do) to bring Michael back from the dead yet again. Perhaps the late Moustapha Akkad felt the fans would never accept any killer other than Michael himself. It’s a shame because this brilliant plot twist could have made the series even more frightening than ever before, but the demands of the box office always dictate just how much you cannot change a winning formula.
Regardless, “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” still proves to be a strong entry in the undying franchise, and this is especially the case when you watch the two sequels which followed it.
* * * out of * * * *