Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Thank God...before the film located me in time and space I was completely adrift.
Thank God…I was completely adrift, myself.

In all the history of cinema, Godzilla and Star Trek stand alone as the only franchises in history who’ve managed field strong fourth films (Mothra vs. Godzilla and The Voyage Home, respectively – though this feels like an invitation for everyone to “well, actually” me). One day they will do epic battle for the hearts and souls of nerds the world over. But until then we, their partisans, must content ourselves with taking the piss out of other, less-fortunate film series.

After Halloween III‘s non-success, John Carpenter apparently had an idea: the story about some small town, haunted by the memory of a violent killing spree in its all-too-recent past…rather like Haddonfield, Illinois. It could’ve been an Our Town for the 1980s…except George went insane and murdered his sister Rebbecca at the end Act One, spent the scene break in an asylum, escaped, and spent the whole of Act Three trying to murder Emily. C’mon: you know you’d love to see that. We won’t see it here, but you just know it’d make a better movie.

Okay. Let’s just get it over with. Ten years have passed since Michael Myers’ reign of terror claimed the lives of sixteen people over the course of two films…ending, you’ll remember, with a violent explosion that consumed Michael, Dr. Loomis, and the operating room in which they both stood. Well, don’t ask, but somehow Loomis and Michael both survived…and if you find that hard to swallow you might as well forget your future career in porn…I’m just sayin’…

Boo!
Boo!

Michael must’ve spent the intervening decade in some kind of Zen-like trance, focusing really, really hard on regrowing all the muscle tissue he’d need just to sit up properly. The doctors at the RIDGEMORE FEDERAL SANITARIUM (because those still existed in 1988, right?) mistake his condition for a coma and make the incredibly stupid mistake of (once again) transferring Michael on the night before Halloween. Did they even glance at his case file? Or the calender? Michael’s two attendants tempt fate further by mentioning the bandaged psycho’s only surviving relative…a little girl named Jamie (Danielle Harris, who’d go on to star as Annie Brackett in Rob Zombie’s two Halloween remakes), the seven-year-old daughter of one Laurie Strode…

Hearing this perks Michael (George P. Wilbur) right the fuck up, pushing him to push a thumb through one attendant’s skull with all the ease of a killer cyborg from the future sent back through time to terminate Sarah Conner. It’s interesting to note, despite the four people given credit for this story (Danny Lipsius, Larry Rattner, Benjamin Ruffner and Alan B. McElroy, who apparently wrote the actual script) not a one of them could come up with a convincingly good reason for Michael to suddenly return from the dead. At one point, Loomis even asks him the great, eternal “Why?” for all the good that does. No answer’s given because no answer’s possible. The one person we could ask remains a silent protagonist, for which I am grateful.

Let’s meet Jamie then. At least her intro is well done: we see her tormented by nightly visitations of a mysterious, knife-wielding man in a tow truck driver’s onesie and bone-white Shatner mask. Her foster parents insist that it’s all a dream, honey, no need for static…but we all know The Truth, don’t we?

Yes, run! Run from the terror that is School.
Yes, run! Run from the terror that is School.

Yes, and the truth is Jamie Lee Curtis wanted nothing to do with this series. By 1988 she’d moved out of the Horror ghetto and on up to the culture industry’s proverbial East Side, otherwise known as the Romantic Comedy. The same year this picture came out, A Fish Called Wanda shot Curtis all the way up to full-fledged, Leading Lady status…opposite a Python, no less. You can’t climb much higher before you hit the glass ceiling.

Unfortunately, this leaves a Laurie Strode-shaped hole in Halloween 4. Once again, rather than tackling this head-on, the script sticks its fingers in its ears and pretends the hole’s not even there, hoping you’ll all play along. Laurie appears here only as a faded set of photos Jamie-the-character-who-is-her-daughter (by whom? Fuck if I know) hides in a shoe box.

I know what you’re thinking: Oo-oo, a Slasher movie centered around a child. Never seen one of those before! Well, that one had more T&A, for one thing. And this time it’s a girl. That’s about the only innovative bone in Halloween 4‘s body and, since kids who aren’t budding special effects wizards might as well not exist in horror movies, we’ll spend most of our time with Laurie’s (adopted) big sister, Rachel (Ellie Cornell). At least she’s old enough to be oogled by the target audience.

"Christ, it's like Dream Country in here."
“Christ, it’s like Dream Country in here.”

So Rachel’s parents have to attend…whatever it is Haddonfield’s parents attend every Halloween Night. Keger, key party, satanic ritual…who knows? A decent enough clutch of adults seem to make the local roadside tavern their second home…Whatever the case, Rachel’s parent’s commitments screw up her plans for a date and inadvertently save her life. No date means no nookie, which means Rachel’s our Final Girl by default, and the blandest Final Girl in the Halloween series so far.

That’s not all her fault. She’s going up against Jamie Lee Curtis, Progenitor of the Role and Idol of American Youth. I don’t blame Cornell, I blame whoever cut her screen time down to the point where she might as well not even be here. She only exists to bring teenagers into a script that should, by all rights, be Jamie’s. Except the film can’t linger on her either. Spending time with Jamie might bring up all sorts of annoying questions about Laurie Strode’s current whereabouts…or her supposed death. What the hell happened? Did she survive the first two films only to get clocked by some drunk in a pickup? Did the Big C carry her off? I’m all for meaningless twists of fate carrying beloved characters off to the grave (after all, isn’t that how it is in “real” life?)…but to not even try and explain it smacks of either gross negligence on the filmmaker’s part…or disdain for their audience.

At least Donald Plesence is still here. He even gets to have a tense encounter with Michael at a gas station/repair shop between the Nuthatch and Haddonfield. Michael escapes, of course, managing to set both the station and Loomis’ car alight in a manner that would do an Action Movie protagonists proud.

Now this could've been a movie for the ages.
Now this could’ve been a movie for the ages.

Forced to hitchhike, the scarred and limping doctor eventually gets a ride from the Rev. Jackson P. Sayer of Dumont County (Carmen Filpi), the film’s best and most under-used character. “Yeah, you’re huntin’ it all right,” Rev. Sawyer says, “just like me…Apocalypse, End of the World, Armageddon. It’s always got a face and a name. I’ve been hunting the bastard for thirty years, give or take…You can’t kill Damnation, mister. It don’t die like a man dies.”

“I know that, Mr. Sawyer,” Loomis responds.

I was hoping the two of them would team up and become an ultimate, badass, freelance, super-normal crime-fighting duo. The crazed doctor and the crazy priest! They’re perfect for each other: Science and Religion reunited again after that messy, four hundred year divorce, ready to recommit to their shared struggled against Evil! Just in time to counter the rise of President George the First and his New World Order…

Sadly, that’s another kick ass movie we won’t be seeing. Instead, let’s focus on Rachel’s dipshit boyfriend, Brady (Sasha Jenson). After the scumsucking little dipshits at Jamie’s elementary school tease, bully, and peer-pressure her into overcoming her initial misgivings about trick-or-treating (“Jamie’s uncle’s the Boogeyman! Jamie’s uncle’s the Boogeyman!”) Rachel and Jamie encounter Brady at the Haddonfield Costume Shop and Shatner Mask Emporium. Brady sours upon hearing that his chances of gettin’ it on with Rachel just dropped to zero. Facing yet another night of jerking off into the sleeve of his favorite jacket, Brady does the manly thing and pouts.

What is it with this town and Shatner masks? They're thick as thieves.
Seriously, what is it with this town and Shatner masks? Is everyone insane?

Meanwhile, Jamie discovers a clown costume startlingly similar to the one a young Michael Myers once donned…on the night he killed his sister, way the hell back in the first film’s legendary opening sequence. And, oh snap, there’s Michael now, standing right behind her, allowing me the rare opportunity to scream, “Behind you, Jamie!” at the TV. Jamie’s screams bring Rachel running…but, of course, Michael’s gone…or is he? Was he even there to begin with?

He must’ve been, because Mikey gets his mask back…I guess white Shatner-faces are a dime a dozen in Haddonfield. Given the town’s history, I find the fact that any featureless, full-face masks are sold anywhere in this county absolutely astonishing. Given the American Taliban’s penchant for crusading against anything Halloween-related, I’m amazed Haddonfield’s town fathers allow any Halloween festivities at all. One slick politician (and there’s few things slicker than an Illinois politician – just ask President Obama) could’ve spun Michael’s spree into a national campaign against the pagan devil-worshipers and their un-holy holiday. After all, Halloween’s yearly commemoration is an obviously plot by the Worldwide Satanic Conspiracy to Destroy most of Our Children and turn the rest into homicidal pseudo-zombies. Didn’t you know?

Just look at Michael…who’s quite the busy boy in this show, doing very little of the quiet lurking that characterized him in the first and second films. After Dr. Loomis drafts Haddonfield’s new Sheriff (Beau Starr) into putting out an emergency broadcast, the two begin driving around town. Michael takes the opportunity to murder Haddonfield’s entire police force (off screen), with the exception of Sheriff Meeker and one unfortunate Deputy. He then Off-screen Teleports out to wherever the town keeps its power mains and knocks out the juice.

My High School had all of these decorations.
My High School had all of these decorations.

I guess that’s what happens when your entire police force consists of four people and your entire public works department consists of one. I’ve lived in some small towns before, but Christ on a rubber crutch…none of them spawned a Slasher movie protagonist and they still threw most of their municipal budgets at the cops. Some of you might not know this but, back in the late 1980s, nothing got scared white people to vote for you faster than the promise of “law and order.” How come no one’s taken advantage of Haddonfield’s tragedy? Surely sixteen dead teenagers is enough for a national headline or three?

I’m forced to conclude that Halloween 4 takes place in a wacky parallel dimension with no Moral Majority, no Christian Coalition, and (we can only hope) no Ronald Regan in the White House. This possibility staggers me. No Iran-Contra scandal. No George (H.W. or Dubya) Bush. A world without fascistic deregulation schemes or jumped-up, hypocritical, public morality crusaders. A better world than this, despite the presence of pseudo-zombies, or the creepy, Old Testament feel common to all Slasher movies. “Break a taboo and die, you kinky bastards!”

But I wouldn’t even be considering the flim’s socio-political backdrop if it’s story were anything other than standard, Slasher boilerplate. Example: while trick-or-treating with Jamie, Rachel happens upon the home of Kelly Meeker (Kathleen Kinmont) the new Sheriff’s daughter…who’s managed to steal Brady and get him half naked in the time it took Rachel to get home, get Jamie dressed, and get back out again. So much for Rachel and Brady’s “relationship.” If the town’s power hadn’t suddenly failed and the streets suddenly grown completely deserted (extras cost money, and kids can’t work overnight shoots anyway) they might actually have had to deal with some of this Prime Time Drama crap.

Guns, vests, and stupid hats. It's like I'm home again.
Guns, vests and stupid hats. It’s like I’ve come home again! Gobbless the Midwest!

As if you needed me to tell you, various factors align to force every character with a speaking role (besides the Sheriff and Dr. Loomis) into the Meeker’s house…the better for Michael to infiltrate it silently and kill everyone he can catch. Kelly, for instance, dies via the most creative use of a shotgun you’re likely to see…unless you watch Hentai.

All this is a pretty pointless set-up for the last twenty minutes. And, surprise surprise, it’s an extended Final Girl chase scene that eventually engulfs Loomis, Sheriff Meeker, and the entire town of Haddonfield…represented here by a quartet of shotgun-toting rednecks who caught the emergency broadcast at the local watering hole somewhere between their fourth,  fifth, or sixth beers.

I rather liked their response to news of Michael Myer’s return home. Vigilante mob justice is an American tradition you’d think our films would explore more often than they do. Unfortunately, Halloween 4 can’t really find the time to develop this…or any of its other ideas…past a scene or three.

I can see the bare bones of Carpenter’s original idea poking through these anonymous rednecks…but why bother about them when you can stage a chase scene across rooftops? Or through Jamie’s elementary school? Except there’s no tension in any of that. We know where it’s going, and the script seems to be as exhausted by the idea of following Jamie and Rachel’s journey as we are.

Can you say "continuity error"?
Just look at that hair! Can you say “continuity error”?

I didn’t hate this film. There’s barely enough here to hate, and that I hate more than anything. More than the cardboard acting we get from Ellie Cornell and Sasha Jenson. More than the random way Michael seems to flit about town, or the obvious padding in George Wilbur’s costume. It’s not bad-bad, its just bland. By this point, the Dream Warriors had already fought Freddy off and Jason Voorhees had met his match in a psychokinetic chick with more angst than a J. O’Barr graphic novel (and thus the key to my angst-ridden heart). Michael Myers, First the Slashers, has to face off against an old man and…a seven-year-old. In a clown suit. Doesn’t exactly scream “High Conflict,” does it? Throw another random teenage girl at him, sure…but that just creates another character. And if you’re going to do that, don’t give your Final Girl such a short shift. You could at least hire someone who can convincingly line read.

Not that Cornell isn’t the best actress among the New Meat…but her talents can only suffer when compared to Donald Pleasense, a massive thespian professionally playing a role only he could inhabit believably. Watching him, listening to his throaty-voiced grumbles about “Evil” and how Michael “isn’t a man,” even I stopped wondering about the way his scars keep shapeshifting from scene to scene…easily the creepiest thing in the film.

There’s a moment where Loomis leads Jamie through the deserted hallways of her school in a last, desperate attempt to evade The Shape. Loomis attempts to assure Jamie that they’ll both be safe and, really, everything will work out in the end. Jamie asks him whether he really believes that and Pleasence dramatically pauses just long enough before putting all the desperation at his command into one sorrowful, heart-wrenching word: “No.”

Dr. Loomis attempts to a mercy-killing...of this series.
Dr. Loomis did his best to mercy-kill this series. Can’t blame a guy for trying.

I even kinda liked the ending…(and I especially loved Dr. Loomis’ reaction to that ending)…not that anyone ever did anything with it. Without giving too much away, it showcases something Slasher villains sorely need: gender equality. The original Friday the 13th and that damn French movie High Tension can barely pick up their own slack, forget carrying the rest of us along.

But that way lies another tangent, and we were discussing Halloween 4…another film that didn’t need to be made in a series that would never have existed in a world ruled by a just and loving god. It’s not good but it’s not bad enough to really get me off. It’s a place-holder: a bridge between two sets. On one side stand two movies of varying quality and debatable merit. Four other, far-worse movies stand behind this mess. And that‘s where we’re going…into the real belly of this beast. Odds are, once I’m done with those, I’ll look back on Halloween 4 as the forgotten masterpiece of late-80s Slasher cinema…but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

Yours, maybe, but not mine.

Special guest shot by Darkman.
With special guest appearance by Darkman…ha! You wish, right? I know I did.

GGHalf-G

15 thoughts on “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)”

  1. Well, actually, Thunderball isn’t bad. It’s hard for me to say if it’s really a strong entry in the Bond series (I haven’t seen it in probably 20 years) but it’s definitely better than later entries.

    And Frankenstein Created Woman is pretty spiffy.

    🙂

    1. As I stared at that joke I thought, “right off somebody’s gonna mention James Bond.” I never committed the order of Bond’s films to memory and its been at least as long for me as it has for you. So I have no real memory of Thunderball beyond a few flashes of scuba divers with spear guns. And those could’ve just as easily come from a commercial for one of those old marathons TBS used to run before cable TV sucked.

      Hammer’s Frankenstein movies are another kettle entirely (and significantly higher up on my list), but I fell off the boat after Evil. How could they could top Zoltan, Mesmerist of Vengeance?

      I suppose I’ll have to take up that series and find out.

      1. Bond went –
        Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and then Thunderball.

        I’ve actually only seen Created Woman and Curse of Frankenstein, the first film. Woman was actually more fun because I didn’t really know where the story would go.

        1. And now I see Old TBS was as obsessive-compulsively completest as I am. That’s exactly the order they played them in during the old marathons, and the order of announcement during the commercials for same. Me, I was over at TCM recording Hammer horror movies during their annual three-day “Holy Shit, It’s Halloween” marathon and that, more than anything, kept me from Created Women, since at the time TCM had a strange habit of arbitrarily cutting themselves off around 1965. So I’ve got Curse of, Revenge of, and Evil of around here somewhere. Probably collecting dust on the end of my old Godzilla tapes.

    1. That’s the perfect way to put it, too. He even gets a “madness scene” at the end. Someone really should compare/contrast this series with Aeschylus’ Agamemnon.

  2. Someone who was too lazy to think up a good nickname and went with the entierly out-of-character sobriquet, "Meh" says:

    I made the unfortunate mistake of stumbling upon your Halloween 2 review. As it made every attempt to be as pretentious as possible while ignoring the positives of one of the better horror sequels out there, I found myself wondering if this was just anger from a fan of true cinema at a sequel being made to one of the finer horror films of all time, or a weak attempt to sound intelligent while being as cynical as possible on the internet, which is already jam-packed with inane cynics. After reading this review, where you try even harder to dislike a harmless sequel (if not one of the better major horror series sequels), I can see you’re just another worthless internet critic, ripping anything and everything in order to boost some image of intelligence (which, unfortunately for you, still seems to be lacking). Good luck with the whole “internet nerd who lashes out at dumb movies” gimmick. Sadly, it’s been done to death, and in much better fashion. I won’t be stopping by again but I’m sure you’ll find a way to rip the next Michael Bay movie to shreds or wallop on Halloween H20 needlessly. Maybe it will entertain your fellow internet nerd elitists, but I’ll pass.

  3. Danielle Harris really is one kid actor worth looking out for. It’s hard to imagine that a mere three years (in 1991) she’d be starring opposite to Bruce Willis, Bruce McGill, Damon Wayans and Halle Berre in “The Last Boy Scout”. I haven’t seen anything more recent than that, but I’m sure she grew up to be a very cute girl. Which reminds me that I should Google her to verify that.

    1. Or you could watch either of Zombie’s Halloweens, where she becomes the one reoccurring cast member of note…though I obviously wouldn’t recommend watching the films just for her, since she’s playing the same kind of horrible character Zombie always writes – possibly the only kind of character he knows how to write.

  4. Zombie is able to write different characters? 😉 I thought he used his movies only to show off the physical beauty of his wife Sheri Moon-Zombie? Anyway, I only know “House Of A 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects” of Zombie’s catalogue. I guess those are the two most essential anyway. I’m a bit surprised you actually haven’t yet covered those two yet. They might not be fine cinema, but as exploitation/shlock tributes they’re quite okay. A bit too much quirky MTV-editing (for my taste), but the general idea is commendable. Captain Spaulding rocks. Such unbridled misanthropia.

    1. They appeared during that unfortunate period where I basically swore off American horror movies, for reasons that’ll become clear as I review more films from just before that period. I’ll get to them eventually…but I’d rather cover the exploitation schlock to which those films pay tribute first.

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