Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) represents a turning point for the series, which had until this point benefited from the involvement of John Carpenter and his collaborators. Initially, Carpenter was set to produce the film, along with Debra Hill, and participate in the creative process. He chose to collaborate on the story with writer Denis Etchison, who had experience with the series through its novelizations. Thanks to the public reaction and financial disappointment of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), the idea of another Myers-less Halloween sequel was a no-go. The writers were sly, however, and created a concept involving a ghostly Myers and the residents of Haddonfield and did so in a way to still push the series into new territory, essentially maintaining Carpenter’s anthology wishes. This concept was rejected by main financial backer, Mustapha Akkad, who stated that the script was “too cerebral.”
As a result, Carpenter and Hill sold their interest in the Halloween franchise and the Etchison script was cast aside. Akkad was now in the position to lead the creative direction of the series with Carpenter out of the picture, and what Akkad wanted was the same old, same old. This make sense from a business standpoint, but it comes with a caveat: creative ambition and innovation are swept aside in favor of beating the dead horse, which perfectly describes Halloween 4.
The film represents the first, but not certainly the last, anniversary installment (ten year) of the franchise. Directed by Dwight H. Little and written by Alan B. McElroy (in eleven days no less), the intent of this picture was to go back to basics. The plot picks up ten years after Michael’s initial massacre where he has stayed in a coma since the explosion at the end of Halloween II (1981). Jamie Lee Curtis was done with horror at that time, so her character of Laurie was killed off-screen in a car accident. Instead, the film’s protagonist is Laurie’s daughter, who is named Jamie Lloyd and played by Danielle Harris. Since she is an orphan (which causes her to be mocked by some awful schoolmates), she gets taken in by the Carruthers family as a foster child. Michael’s comatose body is typically once again being transferred to another facility the night before Halloween, and it’s overhearing the existence of his niece that awakens him. It is not long before Jamie, along with her older foster sister Rachel Carruthers, are on the run for their lives as Michael closes in.
The dialogue is pedestrian and generic, with the plot scenarios having similar quality. Characters don’t have much going on personality-wise and are mostly bland, but the actors are serviceable with a standout being the young Harris. Most potential character interactions or moments of interest are seemingly left out in favor of pushing the film towards the next “scare”. It would be interesting to discover how Jamie feels about being chased by her boogeyman uncle or to have a moment where she asks Loomis about her mother, but instead the film plays it in such a way that their family connection doesn’t really mean much. Well, until the end anyway.
Much of the time is dedicated to a love triangle between the film’s teenage characters, in what appears to be a throwback to the depiction of the teenage lifestyle from Carpenter’s original. The biggest difference is that Halloween’s group of kids had personalities, while Halloween 4’s are just checking off a list of slasher character stereotypes. As for Michael, the years have not been kind since Halloween II because he looks and is played rather ridiculously.
To this day, the origin of Halloween 4’s mask is a mystery to fans, but the most important takeaway is that it’s awful. His build is hilarious as well with the noticeable football pads under the coveralls to make him bulkier, which also limits his mobility; not that he would move much anyway. Outside of one or two shots, the character known as “The Shape” is essentially gone by this point in the series. All that is left are stuntmen doing their best to copy Dick Warlock’s portrayal from the second installment. This version of Michael, played primarily by George Wilbur, is slow and robotic with zero personality coming through. He is now a generic slasher villain or a rip-off of Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees, but without a shred of creepiness to him.
As for the positive aspects, the best moments of the film are actually the opening credits. Instead of repeating the pumpkin-led titles of previous entries, Halloween 4 goes with atmospheric shots of the Haddonfield landscape, minimally decorated with Halloween decorations. This opening sets a tone for a scarier film that will not come after, but as it stands they are creepy.
In addition to that, the film lets the Myers cat in the bag out in the open early, which seems rare in this franchise, as by the halfway point the entire town seems to be on alert. Police stations get massacred which causes the police to enlist the help of a redneck search party (yeah, that goes well). Meanwhile, the main characters set up at the sheriff’s home, which looks great with minimal lighting. It’s during this stretch of the movie that the filmmakers remembered who Michael is supposed to be, and for a time put him back in the shadows for a couple of moments. Though short, this slower-paced sequence is when the movie is at its most enjoyable.
Outside of that, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is the fast food equivalent of Carpenter’s original. The action-y climax is about as exciting as taking Ambien and makes almost as much sense as a person who has taken too much, mixed it with Xanax, and tried to stay awake. There are odd inconsistencies, such as Michael seemingly able to teleport to beat the characters to their whereabouts (this is most hilarious when he somehow manages to hide in the undercarriage of a truck when there is zero possibility of this happening).
One of the most telling aspects of the quality of the script is during the final scene when Sheriff Meeker doesn’t seem to have any concern about the status or whereabouts of his dead daughter. Hey, if this film’s characters don’t seem to care about who lives or dies, why should we? Matching the film’s quality is the score provided by Alan Howarth, who provides good atmospheric sounds during the creepy opening, but soon just regurgitates multiple, boring iterations of Carpenter’s iconic tunes.
Despite the overly safe and bland nature of Halloween 4, the film does bookend itself with quality moments. Aside from the creepy opening title, the very last scene threatens to actually breathe life into the franchise. Michael is seemingly defeated after being run over by a truck driven by Rachel. The authorities show up and immediately check on the welfare of the foster sisters, but Jamie, for some reason, walks over to Michael’s lifeless body. She kneels down and picks up his hand, appearing to share some sort of moment with her uncle. The characters yell at her to get out of the way as Michael rises; she hits the deck as an assortment of gunfire rains down on Michael and knocks him into an abandoned mine shaft.
Later, at the Carruthers household, the characters reflect on the death of Michael and the safety of the girls. Mrs. Carruthers goes to run Jamie a bath, when suddenly, from the hallway, a POV shot starts. The POV picks up some scissors and then puts on a mask, mirroring the opening shot from Michael’s murder of Judith in Halloween. The POV goes into the bathroom where it stabs Mrs. Carruthers, possibly leaving her for dead. Responding to the screams, Dr. Loomis rushes to the bottom of the steps to stare at his worst nightmare. Standing up top is Jamie, decked out in a similar clown costume worn by her young murderous uncle all those years ago, staring down as she holds the pair of bloody scissors. Loomis screams “No!” in terror as he raises the gun to shoot, but before he can he is stopped by the rest of the characters. The film closes on the visual of Jamie standing, still but breathing heavily as the soundtrack fades. It is a truly shocking moment, and one that opens up possibilities for the franchise once again. Let’s hope they don’t squander it.