An outsider’s take on the ‘Halloween’ saga: ‘Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers’ (1988) (Movie review)

Although I’ve seen some of the “Halloween” films, I haven’t seen them recently enough to remember them. So this watch/rewatch of the saga will mark my first time thinking about them as a movie reviewer. Armed with categories suggested by “Halloween” superfan Michael (Olinger, not Myers), here’s my review of the fourth entry, “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” (1988).

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I kind of love this movie. It has the delightful cheesiness of the unkillable Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur) stalking people in Haddonfield 10 years after that first infamous night, and it nicely sets up the fall-in-the-Midwest vibe that make these movies such nostalgic fun in October. But “Halloween 4” doubles down on the concepts and set pieces from the original “Halloween,” sacrificing some suspense for faster-paced thrills.

For example, the kids’ taunts toward Jamie (Danielle Harris, in a remarkable child-actor debut) are personal rather than cliched fare about the boogeyman, and I like how the sheriff locks down his house against an attack. This is a rare horror film where people make smart choices to protect themselves from the killer, and the script is pretty tight considering there are five credited writers.

Perhaps because it was made cheaply, director Dwight H. Little’s film is too visually dark, as it’s hard to pick out details in shadows (although this sometimes adds to the creepiness). But it gets huge bonus points for the shocking epilogue, which makes a viewer re-examine what they’ve witnessed up to that point.

BEST CHARACTER

I was going to say Jamie Lloyd all along, since she’s a rare horror-movie child who is treated as a normal person who is scared of the situation, rather than herself being creepy. She does fit a cliche, though, in that she has visions of the supernatural threat – in this case, her uncle Michael — that the adults write off as nightmares. The aforementioned shocking denouement where Jamie kills her foster mother with a scissors makes me rethink that, though: Perhaps she is genuinely seeing Michael all along. That scene recasts Jamie as someone scared of not just Michael, but also her inner demons, and pushes the character to another level of greatness.

BEST SCARE

Sheriff’s daughter Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont) lights a candle while making small talk with the police officer guarding the door in a rocking chair with a shotgun. Once the candle is lit, the officer’s disfigured corpse is revealed next to the foyer table. So who is in the chair? …

BEST DEATH

… Of course, it’s Michael, and the sequence continues with an inventive death where he skewers Kelly into a door with the shotgun, demonstrating his inhuman strength. …

FUNNIEST MOMENT

… And because I have a twisted mind, I also vote that kill as the movie’s funniest moment. We kind of expect Michael will fire the gun, but instead he finds another way to kill with it (which is, of course, smart, as he doesn’t tip off other people with a shotgun blast).

THAT SEEMS FAMILIAR

In horror movies, the protagonists escaping in a pickup truck comes up more than is statistically likely (for example, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Strangers: Prey at Night”). “Halloween 4” smartly builds its climactic sequence around the trope as Michael picks rednecks out of the truck bed one by one, then rips the driver’s face off, leaving only Rachel (Ellie Cornell) and Jamie as targets.

THAT DOESN’T AGE WELL

“Halloween 4” is due for a remastering, as it would be nice to pick more details out of the shadows. (I saw it on DVD, but a friend says the Blu-ray version is no better.) There’s one point in the house lockdown sequence where the white mask appears in a dark portion of the screen, but I couldn’t tell if I was looking at a window, a mirror, a closet or what.

MOST SURPRISING ELEMENT

The ending, where it turns out Jamie is evil, is a great twist in the moment, and I think it holds up when the overall story is re-examined. She is scared of Michael all along for natural reasons, but perhaps also because she feels a psychological connection. Perhaps some of the times she disappears – such as when she breaks away from foster sister Rachel while trick-or-treating – she sneaks off for a conversation or psychic link-up with Michael.

HOW OVER-THE-TOP IS DONALD PLEASENCE?

When Dr. Loomis screams “No! No! No!” in the stairwell at the end, even Ian McDiarmid (“Star Wars’ ” Darth Sidious) might’ve been saying “My, that’s a bit over the top.” Still, I can’t blame Loomis for his rants about how Michael is evil personified, since people never take the threat seriously, at least at first.

THE MASK

It appears to be a mass-produced mask — but a nice one, complete with hair — pulled off a rack (and it definitely is, if Jamie’s vision in the drugstore is reality). It seems tasteless for a Haddonfield store to stock that mask, considering the man who made it famous cut a violent swath through the town a mere decade earlier, but such is humanity.

NEW REVELATIONS ABOUT MICHAEL

It’s a continuation more so than a new revelation, but his super-strength is emphasized in this chapter, as several of his kills involve ripping off people’s faces with brute force. To be comatose with supposedly atrophying muscles for 10 years after the hospital fire, yet wake up stronger than ever, reiterates Michael’s supernatural powers hinted at in “Halloween II.”

FORGOTTEN THREADS

Random between-movie deaths claim almost as many characters in this series as does Michael himself. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her husband die in an unexplained way, leaving Jamie as an orphan adopted by the Carruthers family. Additionally, Laurie’s parents must also be inexplicably dead now, as they would certainly raise Jamie if they were alive and well. Laurie’s husband’s parents are perhaps also dead.

Michael’s supernatural traits are not forgotten in “Halloween 4” (his strength is central to his kills) but the film is not interested in exploring how or why he has these abilities – at least for now – even though “Halloween II” took tentative steps in that direction.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

I assume the fifth film will build upon the revelation here that Jamie shares Michael’s taste – and knack – for killing. “Halloween 5” could dig further into the nature of evil, and in a particularly creepy way if one of the villains is a little girl.

More “Halloween” reviews:

“Halloween” (1978)

“Halloween II” (1981)

“Halloween III: Season of the Witch”

“Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers”

“Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers”

“Halloween H20: 20 Years Later”

“Halloween: Resurrection”

“Halloween” (2007)

“Halloween II” (2009)

“Halloween” (2018)

All 11 “Halloween” movies, ranked


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