Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Halloween 4 is probably the one sequel which most closely matches the original. I would attribute this to a few factors. The most significant, maybe, is that it was before each new film tried to introduce some new twist to the story. Some new element to either explain The Shape, or just utilize a gimmick to sell the film as something supposedly worth seeing. It stays closer to the spirit of John Carpenter’s original film, focusing on a simple stalk-and-slash idea coupled with relatable characters.
The film picks up ten years after the events of the first and second film. Despite developments in later, contradictory sequels, Jamie Lee Curtis’ character of Laurie Strode died in a car accident, leaving behind a daughter – Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris). She is taken in by another family, and raised alongside their older daughter Rachel Caruthers (Ellie Cornell). Meanwhile, Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur) has been in a comatose state, and Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) remains persistent in his belief that Myers is indeed evil incarnate. As Halloween approaches, The Shape stays dormant no longer, and Loomis must take chase of him before he claims new victims. It is clear to the obsessed doctor that Jamie is to be his ultimate target, but it will be a Halloween night caked in blood before the horror is over.
After the fallout from the unsuccessful Halloween III, Moustapha Akkad wanted to bring back Michael Myers to revitalize the franchise. After all, it was essentially his only meal ticket. Akkad only produced five other (unsuccessful) films outside of this franchise in his 75 year life. Thankfully, this was a solid sequel. Nothing that tried to shake up the idea of the franchise, just inject new life into it, and be as faithful to the style and vibe of the original. Dwight H. Little directs, and does a fine job at it. It’s very difficult to rival Carpenter’s film, but Halloween 4 doesn’t try to be superior. It only tries to be a respectful continuation, and it does succeed. Little focuses more on atmosphere and suspense than gore. While there is a decent amount of it, it’s not obscene. It’s enough to give the film the needed deadly horror aspect, but stays away from being a splatter fest. There’s a constant tension through the main meat of the film with little tinges here and there to keep the momentum going. This allows the film to flow at a decent pace; not allowing it to grind to a halt anywhere, or get wound up too soon. Dwight Little’s name has regularly appeared as a director on television series like Bones, Castle, Prison Break, and Dollhouse. I’m always glad to see that his talent has taken him far with a steady career.
Alan Howarth’s score also helps to keep a strong connection with the first film. The themes are slightly rearranged, but are more similar to those of the first film than the overly-synthesizer themes of Halloween II. For me, that is a welcomed return to form.
The cast and acting of The Return of Michael Myers is indeed solid. Everyone holds their own weight, and convey a realistic array of emotions. The young Danielle Harris really stands out. Where a lot of young actors tend to come off as annoying or phony, she showcases such wonderful innocence and vulnerability. An audience can’t help but truly feel for her all the way through. Danielle has gained a long, successful, and seasoned career birthed from this performance. She’s helped along quite a bit by Ellie Cornell who is very likeable as the loving big sister, but also proves to have a lot of strength. As Rachel, she doesn’t take anything lying down when she discovers her supposed boyfriend messing around with another girl. As the film progresses, she’s put right into the thick of the harrowing danger with Jamie. She maintains better courage under fire than Laurie did in the first two films, and certainly wins over the heart of the audience being Jamie’s sisterly protector.
Donald Pleasance, as always, is excellent. He continued to bring a real credibility and dramatic weight to the series. Some actors, if delivering a lot of the dialogue he had to, might come off as inauthentic or laughable. With Pleasance, he had the talent to make you believe every word. He gave it all the urgency and consequence of the grave. The emotion in his eyes, the fear and the pain, transcend through the screen, and hit you deep within. Where in the first film it was a weary doctor uncertain what Myers was entirely capable of, Loomis is now a man afraid of reliving the nightmare. He has seen the carnage before, and is intensely adamant about preventing it this time. With this in mind, Pleasance delivers a much less reserved Loomis. He hasn’t time for reason or diplomatic talk. Evil incarnate is loose in Haddonfield, and he needs people to take immediate action.
Beau Starr takes up the mantle of Sheriff of Haddonfield as Ben Meeker, and has a much more assertive and take charge personality than Leigh Brackett did. Starr makes Sheriff Meeker a fine counterbalance to Loomis’ almost unhinged psychology. He shows authority and urgency while remaining focused and calm. And while I stand firm in that Nick Castle was the best Myers, George Wilbur does an admirable job, but he doesn’t get much chance to show his movement. He tends to more just appear out of nowhere, figuratively, than stalk people over long distances. However, he does seem less stiff than Dick Warlock’s interpretation (which I’m not very fond of as I prefer a more fluid Shape). The rest of the cast, as I said, hold their own very well. They create a solid and realistic community of characters that you don’t second guess their authenticity. This is also due to Alan McElroy’s solid screenplay – writing intelligent characters with depth who don’t fall into the slasher film formula. They make the choices that any one of us would in those situations. When you would run away, they run away. They don’t make stupid decisions or take foolish courses of action. They may act, sometimes, out of desperation making not the best choices, but there is a realistic motive behind them. Amazingly, McElroy wrote this script in eleven days, just before the writer’s strike of 1987 began. Take it from me, a screenwriter myself, that’s not easy to do.
Again, I feel this is a very worthwhile sequel. It does more to honor John Carpenter’s original film than any other sequel (or remake) in the franchise. It retains a similar look and cinematography, despite the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and really stays true to Carpenter’s story and form of suspense. It cannot rival that 1978 masterpiece, but Halloween 4 respectably holds its own. While John might not agree considering his feelings on the franchise, from a fan’s point of view, I feel it is respectful. After this, the films began to become either more bizarre, watered down, or just plain cheesy. Overall, I believe this entry in the series is about as appropriate and proper as you could get. I’ve never cared for Halloween II, feeling it suffered from seemingly lower production values, a badly reworked score, thinner characters, and less-than-inspiring direction. So, with that mindset, Halloween 4 comes off as the better sequel, and the one I would’ve bettered expected to follow the 1978 film. It’s not as intensely haunting or fascinating as John Carpenter’s Halloween, and quite as brilliantly shot (a 2.35:1 aspect ratio for this movie may have changed that sentiment more), but I believe it was more of a step in the right direction than anything before or after it.