Trick or aaahh!!!
Sheriff: “How could a man do this, Loomis? Tell me.”
Dr. Loomis: “This isn’t a man.”
Sheriff: “Then what is he? Tell me. What the hell are we dealing with here?”
Dr. Loomis: “Evil.”
You all know the story: The original Halloween and its sequel were huge hits, mostly thanks to memorable movie monster Michael Myers. Director John Carpenter envisioned this series as an anthology, though, so the third film went in an entirely different direction. Although Halloween III: Season of the Witch isn’t without its own cult following, fans in general demanded more Michael Myers. This lead to taking the series and the character in a new direction with Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.
It’s been 10 years since Michael Myers raised hell and killed more than 15 people on Halloween night in Haddonfield, Illinois. Although allegedly in a coma, Michael (stuntman George P. Wilbur) awakes after hearing he has a niece. As Michael makes his way to Haddonfield, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, he is pursued by his former psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence, THX 1138), determined to stop Michael at any cost.
Meanwhile, in Haddonfield, Michael’s niece Jamie, (Danielle Harris, The Wild Thornberrys) is living with a foster family after the “death” of her mother, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis of the original Halloween, appearing here only in some scrapbook photos). Although haunted by nightmares of Michael, Jamie bonds with her older foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell, House of the Dead). On Halloween, Rachel gives up a night of partying with the local hunk Brady (Sasha Jenson, Dazed and Confused) to babysit Jamie, not knowing Michael is on his way.
There are really two stories in this film vying for viewers’ attentions. On the one hand there is the cheesy ’80s slasher film that we expect, with filled with tongue in cheek humor and horny teenagers who get sliced and diced. On the other hand there is the more classic horror tale, about a supernatural evil that has risen and one man who believes he has the only key to stop it. Linking the two stories are two characters, Michael, the silent and unstoppable antagonist, and Jamie, his innocent and vulnerable target.
The subplot about Rachel and her dream guy Brady, who has eyes for the sheriff’s daughter, (Kathleen Kinmont, Roller Blade Warriors: Taken by Force) is perhaps the weakest element of the film. I can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers saw the have-sex-and-get-killed antics of the Friday the 13th series and decided to emulate it here. Sure, this is where we get the film’s nude scene (sort of), but mostly this teen heartbreak comes off as filler in between the chases and the killings.
That being said, Ellie Cornell makes for a nice, down-to-Earth girl hero for viewers to root for. She’s not a dim-bulb bimbo who gets chased through the rain in a white tank top, and she’s not a bookish nerd girl who spends the whole movie getting laughed at by conceited cheerleaders. She comes across instead as an ordinary, down-to-Earth girl, caught up in frightening circumstances beyond her control, and that’s just the sort of protagonist this movie needs. Of all the characters running around in this movie, she’s the “every girl” that viewers can identify with.
But the film is only partially a teen slasher. The other half of the story belongs to Donald Pleasence as Loomis. Brace yourself, because here’s an analogy that everyone uses: Loomis is Ahab, and Michael Myers is the white whale; the source of Loomis’s obsession. Just as he does in the other films in this series, Loomis gives plenty of speeches about how Michael is more (or perhaps less) than human. Instead, he says, Michael is pure evil, one that must be stopped.
There’s a curious interlude about a third of the way into the film, in which Loomis meets an elderly preacher (Carmen Filpi, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure). The two are kindred spirits, both chasing after a great evil. The preacher admits that he is pursuing an apocalypse, and that he’s been hoping to stop it for more than 30 years. Loomis listens with great intensity, because he in a similar pursuit. This is a short scene, but it says a lot about Loomis as a character, and gives us a glimpse as to why he’s so driven to stop Michael. Sure, he doesn’t want anyone to die, but there’s more to it than that. It’s almost like a destiny thing, that his struggle with Michael is his life’s work. At the film’s conclusion, when Loomis softly announces Michael’s death, horror fans know better than to believe that. Given the sadness and world-weariness in the way he says it, I have to wonder whether Loomis really believes it too. After all, what would Loomis do with his life if he didn’t have Michael to battle every Oct. 31?
Rachel and Loomis’s paths cross thanks to little Jamie, and her familial connection with Michael. Although she was only 10 when Halloween 4 was filmed, Danielle Harris still somehow manages to carry most of film’s emotional weight. Early on, there’s a borderline embarrassing scene in which the other kids taunt Jamie at school. Although the dialogue in this scene is cheesier than cheese itself, Harris still gets across the overwhelming sadness experienced by her character. Later, after she has her first genuine encounter with Michael, Harris screams and runs in the finest tradition of actresses who have screamed and ran from movie monsters over the years.
And that brings us to the big man himself, Michael Myers. The extras reveal that George Wilbur was chosen to play Michael because he had just the right sort of lumbering walk for the character. From there, his performance as Michael is what we expect—cold and emotionless. Michael’s iconic expressionless mask gives almost no glimpse into whatever gruesome thoughts might be going on inside his head. He often gets compared to another faceless killer, Jason from the Friday the 13th series, but there are some distinct differences between the two. Jason is more of a tank, machete-hacking his way through his victims, and showing a mere child-like state of mind during those rare moments in which he is “humanized.” Michael, at least in this film, is more of a thinker. Like in the first Halloween, there are plenty of moments here where he’s just out of the characters’ view, watching them from a distance. The fact that Michael plans his murders in advance, and that he’s incredibly stealthy as he does so, makes him a force to be reckoned with. Once the characters realize this, they know he could be around any corner or sneaking up behind them at any second. This cranks up the tension in the final third of the film, and makes everyone’s fear feel palpable.
Keeping all these various threads in the film together is director Dwight H. Little (Marked for Death). Movies like this aren’t often known for their eye-popping cinematography, but Little manages to make the most of what he’s got, crafting a visually rich film. Are the night scenes too brightly lit? You could make that case, but they’re also nicely lit, painting the actors and their surroundings in rich blues and greens. A lot of shots benefit from some convenient movie fog, the kind that only appears when atmosphere is needed. But this fog looks great nonetheless. It’s like a living thing the way it wisps around Michael as he stands stoically.
Continuing in that (severed) vein, the transfer on this new DVD is stellar. The colors are strong and vivid, especially the blues and greens mentioned above, as well as the warm, earthy colors used when the characters are indoors and they think they are safe. Likewise, the black levels are deep and rich. A few scenes look slightly soft; no doubt because of the film’s age. But other than that, it has been well restored visually. The audio is hit or miss. Although the actors’ voices come across with no distortion and the famous theme music sounds terrific, there are a few sound effects scenes that come across as flat and tinny. Whenever there are gunshots or explosions, they should come out of the speakers with a big 5.1 “BOOM!!!” but instead, it’s more of a “BLAAT!!!” This could be the filmmakers’ choice, but if not, these scenes could have used some cleaning up.
Now, Halloween 4 has already seen several previous DVD releases. No one likes to have to buy a movie more than once, I know, but the bonus features on this version put all the others to shame. Starting things off are two commentaries. The first is from screenwriter Alan B. McElroy (Wrong Turn), done in “interview style” with a fan feeding him questions throughout the movie. McElroy reveals plot ideas and scenes that weren’t filmed, as well as a few anecdotes from the set. Then, Harris and Cornell sit down for a second commentary. This is a pretty lightweight track, which might disappoint diehard fans. But even though their jokes and constant praise for their costars don’t have much substance, I have to admit this I thought this was a fun listen. Harris, Cornell and Sasha Jensen show up again for a Q & A panel, filmed at a horror convention, where they answer questions from a room full of Michael Myers fans. There’s a lot of good information here, and everyone’s love and enthusiasm for the film is infectious. Aside from the trailer, the only other extra brought over from a previous edition is the 17-minute “Final Cut” featurette from the limited edition tin. So, if you spent the equivalent of a med school degree buying the tin off of eBay, then you’ve already seen this featurette. Although fairly short, it covers a lot of ground, taking viewers through the story’s creation, the casting, and the production. The original theatrical trailer is here, as well as trailers for the first and fifth Halloween films, plus Showtime’s Masters of Horror anthology.
As a stand-alone film, this one’s a lot of horror movie fun, but when viewed as part of a series, the pieces don’t quite come together. The shocking ending here would later be retconned in Halloween 5, just as that film’s jaw-dropping ending would get its own retcon in the sixth film. This is frustrating for fans hoping to follow these characters from movie to movie. Even more troubling, though, is the revelation of what really became of Jamie’s mother, Laurie Strode, in Halloween H20. Are we to believe that Laurie knowingly (or willingly?) abandoned little Jamie? It’s understandable that the makers of H20 wanted to keep their nostalgic focus on just the first film, but at least a mention of Laurie’s other family connections would have gone a long way to giving these films some narrative cohesion.
Also, a lot of fans over the years have complained about the look of Michael’s mask in this film, preferring the one he wore in the first movie. I personally don’t see what the big controversy is. Even if his look has been tweaked slightly, he’s still clearly recognizable as the Michael we all know and adore.
Naturally, Halloween 4 can’t hold a candle to John Carpenter’s slow-burn original classic. But taken on its own, it’s a fun thrill ride through the land of ’80s horror. It’s got some decent performances, several well-timed scares, a couple of unintentional laughs, and an overall sense of tense atmosphere that should make for memorable late-night-with-popcorn viewing.