After the disastrous attempt to create Halloween-themed films under the original film’s banner with Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1983), Moustapha Akkad, the original executive producer behind Halloween (1978), bought back the film rights from Dino De Laurentiis and Universal, and ‘went back to basics’ by picking up the Michael Myers saga ten years after Halloween 2 ended.
Only problem: with the writer’s strike a definite go, screenwriter Alan B. McElroy (Wrong Turn) had 11 days to knock out a shooting script with ideas co-doodled by three other credited writers.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is less a sequel and more of a transformation of a seventies slasher/thriller into an eighties slasher, while being mindful of the architecture that made the first film such a success. McElroy’s script is still undercooked, though; the teens are just as clichéd and brainless as other eighties horror flicks, and with Dwight H. Little (Marked for Death) at the helm, it also traverse into action flick terrain. Little makes sure the shock sequences are moody and foreboding, but his penchant for designing efficient combat sequences means the languid atmosphere typical of Carpenter’s original film is all gone.
There is a concerted effort to establish a new backstory for the franchise, and that element works largely because of the immensely strong casting of Danielle Harris as Jamie, the daughter of a presumed dead Laurie Strode now living with a foster family, and the unsettling aspect of taking a child and making her the target of a serial killer determined to eradicate all family traces. That decision makes Myers’ stalking and traumatizing of a child far more fearsome that dumb teens having sex in an empty home, and Harris remains a strongly sympathetic character right to the film’s oddball twist.
Where the filmmakers bungled is in a series of very simple production decision: to abandon the beautiful ‘scope ratio in favour of a more TV-friendly 1.85:1; having composer Alan Howarth stick to the theme repetitions instead of developing new material; and choosing locations that bear no resemblance to the Haddonfield, Illinois, of the first film.
Carpenter and Hill shot the first film in California, and the age and lot sizes of the homes are more late fifties/early sixties suburban America; the only real small town feel comes from the city streets that are still quite busy, broad, and surrounded by the kind of urban architecture that grows around and transforms a once-rural Main Street, U.S.A. It’s a small town that recently evolved because of modern development.
With the exception of one establishing shot of a suburban street readying for Halloween, it’s clear the producers wanted a more Middle American look, as well change the franchise’s mythology to an insular community who look after their own; the Carpenter-Hill America, with white Beaver Cleaver homes, is physically more spread out, whereas here it’s four-level, turn of the century homes on more narrow plots, and rednecks who keep guns at arm’s length because strange elements can’t be trusted. When the local bartender sees a TV report about a mandatory curfew and gets no answer from the sheriff’s office, the entire half-drunk clique of farming hicks get into their trucks, and aim to help. The final battle – iconically involving rednecks, shotguns, and Michael Myers clamouring onto a pickup truck – is more about a community fighting back on a literal farmland road than inside a three-level split, with a neatly manicured lawn.
The violence is also more direct, compact, and the result of a killer who is perfectly agile in cars in spite of surviving a massive full-body burning at the end of the second film. With an awareness that producer Akkad wanted a new franchise reboot, one suspects Halloween 4 was designed as the definitive remodelling of Myers as a physically powerful killing entity who everyone knew would never die in the final reel – kinda like Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees, a rival character who would exert a greater influence on the franchise in the fifth Halloween film.
Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who was last seen in the hospital’s O.R. room with Myers before the massive explosion, also returns with scars somewhat matching Myers, a nice touch tying the two foes by similarly graphic scars. Of course, if Myers is able to survive bullets, fire, and whacks to the head, why doesn’t his healing powers render him pristine? (In the fifth film, we see a baby-skinned Myers in the final reel when his mask is briefly removed by Jamie. Could it be a William Shatner mask is asbestos-based?)
The film’s final act is more or less has Dr. Loomis effectively convincing the police to defend their community from ‘pure evil,’ and Myers eventually run out of town where he’s disposed of like a rabid farm animal. What’s considerably daft is showing Dr. Loomis so pathologically obsessed with personally destroying and confirming Myers’ demise, yet settling for a shootout and mine shaft tumble as proof-positive that the boy who’s ruined his own life as well as innocents of Haddonfield is 100% dead.
The final twist doesn’t feel tacked on, but it’s baffling as to why a character portrayed one way would suddenly revert to a polar state. The presumption is of evil hop-skipping from one generation to the next, but the sense is A) the producers needed some kind of twist, and writer McElroy crafted an image that was effectively horrific; and B) the producers needed some kind of finale that would set up the next film, offering them more than one option to establish a new villain, or the old one audiences missed in the third film.
Anchor Bay’s DVD comes with an excellent array of extras that should please ardent franchise fans, and that includes making-of featurette on the production from the 2001 DVD, theatrical trailer, and two commentary tracks recorded in 2006: the first with actresses Harris and Ellie Cornell, and the second with writer McElroy. Also archived is a set of panel interviews from the 25th Halloween convention with Harris, Cornell, Kathleen Kinmont (the sheriff’s sexy and very doomed daughter), Jeffrey Landman (Billy, from Halloween 5), and Sasha Jenson (Cornell’s two-timing onscreen boyfriend).
The new Divimax film transfer is very clean, and includes a Dolby 5.1 mix that’s spectrally broader, but is less warm and direct than the original Ultra Stereo mix also present on the DVD.
This title is available separately, or as part of the 30th Anniversary Commemorative Set from Anchor Bay/Starz.
Films in the Halloween franchise include Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween V (1989), Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), the seventh part, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998), the eighth part, Halloween: Resurrection (2002), and Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007).
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan