By: Garrett Collins
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Starring: Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Donald Pleasence, Beau Starr, Kathleen Kinmont, and George P. Wilbur
Warning: This review contains major spoilers to the film’s ending. If you haven’t seen Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers yet, I recommend you watch it and then read the following review.
By 1988, six years after the last Halloween sequel/debacle known as Season of the Witch, the horror landscape had changed. Freddy Krueger was a household name (Jamie’s nightmare in this movie should not be looked at as coincidence), and the phrase Friday the 13th wasn’t just used to describe a day anymore. It was synonymous with the hockey masked killer known as Jason Voorhees. Of course, there were even more obstacles in the way of Michael coming back to the big screen other than Michael not having his knife, his mask, and –oh yeah- being burned to death in a hospital along with his psychologist Dr Loomis (Pleasence). After Halloween III’s horrible fan and critic (not to mention box office) reception, Universal ended up dumping the franchise and original director John Carpenter saw his version of bringing The Shape back for the fourth film –which reportedly involved it consuming another individual and letting his evil linger in Haddonfield- shot down. Not to mention there was one other obstacle lingering that had the power to bring down all three horror franchises at once. And that was the 1988 writer’s strike.
So what did we end up with? A movie that is pretty much chasing the tails of those other more successful franchises by having its villain reach superhuman capacity (witness him sticking his thumb in the forehead of an EMT and shoving a shotgun through the wall and stomach of the police chief’s slut daughter for proof) and a beginning that is not as ominous as a flaming pumpkin. Instead, we open amongst what I suppose is intended to be spooky and unsettling imagery. But it comes off as an almost desperate attempt to make itself stick out amongst more successful franchises.
In fact, that may be my review of this entire movie. When we finally get to the crux of the story, we see a group of EMTs transferring Michael in his coma state –I didn’t know being burned alive caused comas- and the lead up to seeing him was so cheesy and poorly acted that it had me thanking the movie gods the actors in the scene never worked again. Lines like ‘you never get used to the faces. Never’ and ‘Jesus has nothing to do with this place’ sounded like they were delivered on that day without any rewrites possible due to the lingering strike. It hurts this movie from the get-go because while none of these franchises were ever known for their Oscar caliber performances, Halloween, even in that ridiculous third entry, stuck out to me due to the actors in the lead roles at least trying to make themselves likable to the audience. Jamie Lee Curtis is the obvious stand-out when it comes to tonality towards the audience, and Pleasence was a welcome presence in both the first two films of the series due to his ability to explain why people should be scared of this complete madman who has escaped from the mental hospital. So when I turn on Halloween 4 and see these horrible B-movie actors trying to sell me on the evil with none of Pleasence’s gravitas, I already start to tune out of its narrative.
Taking place ten years after the original, we meet Jamie (Harris, whose character’s name was obviously a call back to Curtis) the nine-year old niece of now dead Laurie Strode who is having nightmares that the ‘Nightmare Man’ is coming after her. Ok, there are a few things wrong with this scenario. One, when we last saw Laurie, she had never been on a date, let alone liked anyone enough to make a child with them. We are expected to take the huge leap of logic that between the events of Halloween 2 and 4, she had met someone and made a child, only to die in a car crash eleven months before this film takes place. It is lazy writing, and scribe Alan B. McElroy may be able to use the excuse that he had to turn in his draft before the strike deadline hit, but director Dwight H Little (Silver Bullet) has no excuse for putting them onscreen without doing at least a little revising.
Out of all this, I do not want to downplay the job young Harris does in the role of Jamie Lloyd. Instantly likable, Harris has the ability to scream and right away make you feel for her. The final scene involving her on the stairs after stabbing her mother to death (much like Michael did to his sister all those years ago in the first film) really feels like innocence lost. Cornell on the other hand, grated on me. She came off almost like a soap actress, and her constant whining about having a date yet being stuck watching Jamie (who is obviously adopted) did nothing to appeal to my sensibilities. This feeling never changed and by the end of the movie, I am shocked Little didn’t go the route of killing Cornell’s character of Rachel instead of the mom. In fact, I was kind of hoping for it.
Is there anything besides Harris’s performance to grasp onto in Halloween 4? Not really. While I use the word ominous a lot to describe the feelings of both 1 and 2, 4 feels anything but. And it hurts the movie. There is no real stalk sequence to speak of –no, the roof sequence does not count- and by the time the Hillbilly Mob of Illinois (!) get into the act, I was already wanting the movie to end. Another frustration with this movie involves its mask. You would think out of everything to do wrong in this movie (which is a lot), they would at least have gotten the correct mask and painted it. Nope, you would be wrong. Not only are the eyes cut out in weird ways, there is one scene in a school where Michael’s hair is BLONDE! How people in post missed this little ditty speaks volumes about how lazy of a film Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is. If it wasn’t for the great performance by Harris, I would say dump it altogether. Loomis was right. Michael is pure evil. And producers Paul Freeman & Moustapha Akkad were pure evil for bringing him back in this way.