Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

1988
Dir. Dwight H. Little

Ten years after his bloody killing spree and attempts on his sister Laurie Strode’s life, a comatose Michael Myers awakens and returns to Haddonfield to kill Laurie’s daughter, seven-year-old Jamie, on Halloween. Dr Loomis, who also survived the explosion in the hospital thought to have finished Myers’ off, once again sets out to stop his former patient once and for all.

After the commercial flop of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, producers realised that fans of the burgeoning series were baying for more of Michael Myers’ psychotic exploits. With the original Halloween instigating a boom of slasher movies that continued well throughout the Eighties, Moustapha Akkad decided the time was right to bring the brutal serial killer back. As a result, John Carpenter and Debra Hill, who had hoped to develop the series as an anthology with a new Halloween-season related plot in every sequel, backed away from the series and had nothing more to do with it from this title onwards – aside from Carpenter’s theme music accreditation. With a budget of $5 million, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers was a moderate commercial success, though it received lukewarm reviews. The slasher movie was by this stage on the way out, with its Golden Era (1978 - 1986) well and truly behind it.



Halloween 4 begins with much promise, but after the bleak, eerie and overwhelmingly creepy opening credit sequence, it’s pretty much business as usual. Apparently Michael Myers and Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence) didn’t die in the fire at the end of Halloween II. Myers’ lay in a comatose/dormant state for ten years (hey, even evil incarnate needs some down time) while Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) attempted to rebuild her life and Loomis continued his work at Smith’s Grove Sanatorium, cultivating a reputation as a crackpot doomsayer. Laurie had a daughter, Jamie, and then apparently died before the events in this film. Myers learns of Jamie’s existence during a routine transferral (is there ever any other kind?) back to Smith's Grove and murders the medics en route. Making his way back to Haddonfield, it isn’t long before the blood begins to flow in copious amounts and it's business as usual in this increasingly substandard slasher series.

Much in the same way as the original film established its characters as they went about their daily routines oblivious to the peril they were about to find themselves in, so too does Halloween 4 introduce us to a new cast ready to go under the knife as Myers’ stalks them from a distance. Jamie (Danielle Harris) still mourns the death of her mother and suffers from nightmares of ‘the bogeyman’ (Myers). She’s bullied in school as her notorious uncle has become a sort of local urban legend whom stories of are used to frighten children. Her level-headed foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) attempts to help her through the hard times. As with most Halloween films, the parents – in this case Jamie’s foster parents – are absent for much of the time, leaving their children to fend for themselves. Even Pleasence isn’t given a great deal to do here except elaborate on his harbinger of doom act. One telling scene however features him hitching a lift with a fanatical drifter priest who pontificates on the impossibility of 'killing damnation.' Loomis seems to see himself in this man and the two share a moment of mutual understanding.



Halloween 4 doesn’t even exhibit a shred of the tension evident in Carpenter’s original – in terms of originality, suspense and imagination it is more akin to Halloween II and emerges as a relative latecomer to the slasher genre, and a fairly two-bit one at that. Myers is no longer relegated to the shadows or the periphery of the screen to menacingly loiter and skulk; in this instalment he comes out into the open and loses any sense of mystery or shuddersome dread he ever had. Some of the scenes set outside Haddonfield as Loomis pursues Myers through the countryside, are atmospheric in a sparse and moody way though. The absence of music and the sound of a lonely, howling wind establish a desolate atmosphere of uneasiness. Tracking Myers to a gas station, the film’s creepiest moment comes when Loomis attempts to plead with the killer to stay away from Haddonfield. Seen only in the background of the shot but still in plain sight, Myers lurks in a doorway just out of focus, the remnants of his victims scattered about the diner, his head bandaged with bloody gauze. It’s a shot chilling in its simplicity and understated menace. As this is a sequel (and one that marks the series' ten year anniversary at that), it therefore has to be bigger, better, faster, more - the gas station explodes soon after. Another rare subtle moment of dread comes when Rachel sees Myers for the first time: losing Jamie while trick or treating, she desperately roams the increasingly deserted and fog shrouded streets of Haddonfield during a blackout. In a particularly dark and empty backstreet she sees a formidable figure emerging slowly from the fog and legs it.

The screenplay by Alan McElroy attempts to open the story out and tries to explore how a small town would react to the news of such an infamous killer and blight from its past, returning to stalk its leafy streets. A vague sense of community is established, but most of the characters are either anonymous cops or Rachel’s sexed-up teen friends – all of whom are only really there to be murderlised. And murderlised they are – usually in graphic ways and without much build up or tension. While there are aspects of the script that prove promising, director Little still fails to muster much tension, and before long, all the old clichés and conventions established since the original Halloween are carted out and strewn about with abandon.



Having a young girl as the main target of Myers’ murderous intentions works to raise the stakes and perturb matters significantly. Indeed, some of the scenes featuring an ever imperilled and vulnerable Jamie are reasonably distressing, and Harris delivers a convincing and engaging performance. However there are too many instances of idiotic teens and ineffective cops having sex and forgetting how to use a gun to ensure Jamie’s plight is as convincing as it could be. The script contains a few interesting aspects that are never really fleshed out, such as the lynch mob baying for Myers’ blood and mistakenly shooting up innocent citizens, and the underlying concept of families and their skeletons in the closet as a source of danger and anxiety. With a little teasing out, the idea of a small, everyday town uniting to conquer its dark past personified, could have been quite effective. Even several moderately thrilling set pieces such as an extended chase sequence along a roof-top and through a deserted school still don’t save Halloween 4 from descending into a rudimentary slump, bogged down by a lack of daring. In terms of slasher logic, Halloween 4 is as standard as they come; characters insist on doing the most foolish, illogical things because the lazy script and convention dictates they do. Despite having police protection and being in a locked down house with battened doors and windows, Jamie and Rachel still aren’t safe and Myers constantly gets to them with little tension evoked.
As the sort of Final Girl, Rachel is an adequate successor to Laurie Strode. The lengths she goes to to protect Jamie are admirable, and Cornell is grounded and likable. In a resourceful, even-headed Final Girl sort of way.

In a last ditch attempt to throw something new onto the pile, or set up a sequel (hey, who are they kidding?) Halloween 4 closes with Jamie apparently established as a progeny/successor to Michael Myers’ blood-hewn legacy. The film closes with her stabbing her foster mother and staring blankly at the screen, decked out in a clown costume (echoing the opening scene of the original film in which a similarly dressed young Myers kills his sister) having seemingly inherited her maniacal uncle’s psychotic tendencies. This of course would be sidestepped in the follow up and even more lackluster Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers.



On a more or less even par with Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is also quite disappointing – and when compared with Carpenter’s original classic, it is a staggering let down. That it also pales somewhat in comparison to countless other copycat slasher flicks of the time is also telling of its lack of originality. The few interesting ideas it toys with are lost amid the clichés, tensionless violence and pretty much tired-as-soon-as-they-were-established conventions the genre is renowned for.

11 comments:

kelvingreen said...

The ending of this film and the next are so odd, these big cliffhangers which just don't get picked up in the next sequel.

There's something refreshingly bonkers about them, but they're just not satisfying in any shape or form.

Christine Hadden said...

I absolutely LOVE the opening of this film! The music and the images...very cool. It's really too bad it didn't quite live up to the anticipation I had in those first few minutes.
But I still love this one. I thought about putting it on my guilty pleasures list, but then I thought: Wait, doesn't EVERYONE love this one??

Caffeinated Joe said...

Great review!

Definitely not on par with the original, and a different feel - and time - from Part II, I still find things to love about this film. Rachel is one of them, Jamie is good, too. And some of the scenes you mention are just great, even if lost a bit in some of the confusion surrounding them. Not perfect, but I love it.

Wes M said...

Great review James, and yes the best thing about the film is the great opening sequence, which is so effective, the rest of the suffers badly from it. And while I don't love the film, I do have some affection for it, which addmittedly is due in part to 80's Horror nostalgia. This is the last in the series I've seen, not counting the Rob Zombie films. I've seen all the Fridays and the Elm Streets but somehow I fell out of this series...

The Film Connoisseur said...

Dont know why, but to me this one was always one of the better sequels of the series, for me the real letdown came with Halloween 5.

Aaron said...

Danielle Harris is adorable in this. She looks like a little angel. Awwwww!

Anyway, like I said in another post, I re-watched this one not too long ago. I hadn't seen it in a few years, and during that period of time I was somehow convinced that Part 4 was awesome. I'm not sure why. It didn't hold up very well when I re-watched it. The diner scene is great, but that's about where I draw the line with giving the film any credit; well, that and the fact that it's not HALLOWEEN 6 or RESURRECTION. UGH.

My biggest peeve with the film is something nit-picky. One of the things that made the first two (and even the third) so great is how they were shot. It can be argued that one of the reasons Michael Meyers was so scary is because of how Dean Cundey shot him. Not only did they not bring him in for this one, but they shot the film in 1.85 instead of 2.35. Wow, I better just stop before this gets way too nerdy.

James Gracey said...

Pah-leese, Aaron! Nerdy is good! And one can never be too nerdy.
I agree with you though - the way H4 was shot was so bland and uninteresting. It has a few memorable moments (opening credits (!), the diner scene and the rooftop chase) but nothing to really make any sort of impact on a visual level.

Fred [The Wolf] said...

I really like this sequel myself. Not as great as the first two, but still damn solid in my opinion. Probably the last great HALLOWEEN film for me. Too bad they wimped out in the next sequel after that ending. Great review.

James Gracey said...

@Fred[The Wolf] I think H20 is the last (and only other) great Halloween film! This just didn’t do it for me – though it does have some moments I really enjoyed. Overall though, it was a big let down. With tighter direction, more suspense and less gore, perhaps less obvious knife-fodder characters and sharper dialogue, it could have been way better.

Thanks for stopping by!

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Utterly abysmal! Bereft of imagination or intelligence...You have my symapthy undertaking this HALLOWEEN marathon James.

James Gracey said...

Thanks Shaun! Overall I did enjoy the marathon - though it was quite depressing at times to see how much quality diminished as it went on. While there are a couple of aspects I liked about this one, you're probably right about it being abysmal! I thought I may have been too harsh with it, but you've reaffirmed my feelings. I think! ;)