Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

The subtitle “The Return of Michael Myers” works on three levels. First, it tells audiences that, after the standalone Halloween III, we’re back to the Myers continuity of a deranged possibly-superhuman madman wandering a Midwest town killing residents. The second meaning is as narrative descriptor: Michael Myers returns to his hometown ten years after he first went on a murder spree.

The third meaning of the subtitle is as a mission statement: This is a return to roots. A return to form. A return to Michael Myers as the symbol of cold, menacing terror. Put another way: The over-the-top sense of fun from Halloween II is history (let alone the outright silliness of Halloween III). Back to slasher basics.

Sure enough, Halloween 4 is scary and tense, but in a dry sort of way. Not quite boring; prosaically effective and uninteresting. For about two thirds of its runtime, it’s running on narrative fumes, too: Almost every beat is thoroughly predictable and/or cumbersome. Getting through the story is a bit like sloshing through mud — a hassle, even if it takes you in the right direction.

Dampening the impact of the film are a few factors. The first is the protagonist void. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been written out — implied, but not explicitly confirmed as far as I heard, to be dead. It’s not that Laurie is an especially interesting character; almost the opposite, in fact. Her normalcy and modesty were what set her apart. But Curtis had a sufficient presence in her performance to be the center of gravity for the first two films.

Halloween 4 replaces Curtis with a twosome: Teen Rachel (Ellie Cornell) and seven-year-old Jamie (Danielle Harris), the latter of whom is Laurie’s daughter, and therefore Michael Myers’s niece. Myers, who got exploded real bad at the end of Halloween II, has survived in a coma, but wakes up just in time to hear someone mention Jamie; a blink of an eye later, he has broken out. Young Jamie, who suffers from nightmares and occasional hallucinations, is his new murderous target.

This is a bit of a problem for me. There’s a bit of catharsis watching a wacko chase around snotty, horny teens, the gleaming butchers’ blade a phallic mirror to adolescent lust. Watching him hunt down a seven-year-old foster kid just feels dour and, if you extend the metaphor, pedophilic and unsettling. Luckily, we have Rachel there, too, and Cornell is solid, albeit not up to Curtis’s standard.

The second problem is the turnover in creative team. The director’s chair is filled by the fourth person in as many entries. In this outing, the gun-for-hire is Dwight H. Little, who has no discernible style or sense of space. Dean Cundey is out as cinematographer, replaced by Peter Lyons Collister. Cundey’s construction of deep, murky darkness for Myers to emerge from is sorely missed. Lastly, and most importantly, Carpenter is completely out of the credits, and the loss of his guiding vision of physical grace (and excellent score) is evident.

The first two acts of the film had me feeling downbeat as the film coasted in that uninteresting middle ground that lives between “good,” “bad,” and “weird” without being any of the three. There are a couple of interesting-on-the-surface narrative angles, like Sam Loomis’s (Donald Pleasence) Ahab obsession with Myers escalated to operatic heights and the depiction of a town simultaneously still grieving from the violence ten years ago and ready to move on just as Myers reappears. But it’s not especially interesting in execution.

However, the film really ratchets up in its final act. The story centralizes around an enclosed space of a boarded up house, not too far removed from the claustrophobic magic of the first Halloween. Rachel and Jamie make a gripping escape across a roof at one point, trying to keep balance as Myers chases them. It’s a great set piece.

And then there’s the very last scene of the film, which gives us an absolute jolt of a final twist that I was disappointed I didn’t predict and echoes back to the first few scenes of the first movie. It left me feeling quite fond of the film. What a striking final image that raises interesting thematic questions that I’m sure Halloween 5 will bungle.

Is It Good?

Nearly Good (4/8)

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