Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Director: Dwight H. Little
Writer: Alan B. McElroy, Dhani Lipsius, Larry Rattner, Benjamin Ruffner
Producer: Paul Freeman
Stars: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, Michael Pataki, Beau Starr, Kathleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson, George P. Wilbur
Ten years after his Halloween night terror spree, Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield to stalk his young niece Jamie.
“Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” is popularly regarded by many “Halloween” franchise fans as one of the best and most suspenseful sequels in the saga. I’m not sure if this was always the case or if, like my own biased reverie for “Halloween II” (review here), looking favorably on the first few movies nowadays is a hindsight byproduct of knowing how far the series still had to fall by the time of “Halloween: Resurrection.”
It’s telling that two of the four men who contributed ideas to the film have “Halloween 4” as the one and only writing credit to their names. Tale spinning is not among their strongest suits, as Alan B. McElroy’s final script clearly emphasizes function over fiction. Given how the plot bumps with impossible convenience from one beat to the next, what little sense the story makes doesn’t hold up to even casual scrutiny.
It’s been exactly ten years minus one day since Michael Myers returned to Haddonfield to collect a body count like trick-or-treaters collect fun size Milky Ways. What better time than that anniversary to have an underprepared medical team conduct a rain-soaked patient transfer for The Shape? Might as well mention within earshot that he has a niece living in his hometown too, just in case he wants to reanimate and continue cutting limbs off his family tree.
As much guff as the Cult of Thorn angle takes for convoluting the franchise’s murky mythology, it’s really the only way to retroactively rationalize nonsensical plot points that start popping up as soon as Dr. Loomis spies “Samhain” on the “Halloween II” blackboard. A druidic conspiracy is actually the most plausible explanation for why the chief doctor in charge of Michael’s treatment for two decades would be the last person to know about his secret sister.
Not that the sibling link between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode was ever solid to begin with. Laurie was two years old when Michael murdered Judith, and wouldn’t be adopted by the Strodes until the Myers parents died two years later. Yes, court records were sealed to protect Laurie’s identity, but did that involve erasing everyone’s memory, as well? Surely more than one person in Haddonfield knew that the Myers had a third child. Wouldn’t Judith’s obituary or news reports regarding the 1963 crime have mentioned surviving relatives?
It’s funny to consider the extreme lengths that everyone went to in order to keep Laurie Strode’s true identity a secret. Yet no one, Laurie Strode included, thought to afford Jamie Lloyd the same consideration. Not only does Jamie maintain a memento box of family photos, but she also knows enough details about her uncle’s horrible history that donning a clown costume brings to mind an image of Michael Myers in a similar outfit when he murdered his first sister in 1963. Who knew what Michael was wearing that night and who shared that information with Jamie? Cult conspiracy makes a lot more sense when you think about it.
Loomis is introduced in “Halloween 4” when he barges into Dr. Hoffman’s office demanding to know why he wasn’t notified about Michael’s transfer. If he wasn’t notified about Michael’s transfer, then how does he know to barge into Dr. Hoffman’s office to ask about it? Maybe so he can be present sixty seconds later when Hoffman receives the call that Michael’s ambulance overturned off an embankment.
Loomis’ behavior in “Halloween 4” is wildly inconsistent. As soon as he spots the overturned transport, the good doctor immediately concludes that Michael escaped, even though authorities on scene insist that they have neither found nor identified all of the bodies from the wreck. Yet after Michael disappears down a hole in the ground during the climax, Loomis is quick to proclaim that “Michael Myers is in Hell” and the ordeal is over, even though he wasn’t even present to witness what actually happened.
Ignoring his sudden confidence that habeas corpus is unnecessary, “Halloween 4” does a more well-rounded job of presenting Dr. Loomis than either of the John Carpenter-penned entries did. Donald Pleasence features in several wonderful scenes that finally flesh Loomis beyond his previously single-note Captain Ahab persona. Instead of winded monologues and crazed ramblings about forces of evil, “Halloween 4” puts real characterization into the man.
The gas station confrontation between Loomis and Michael is Pleasence’s single best moment in the role he played five times. His slow approach. The release of a cane that you don’t even notice until he makes its drop a part of the scene. Different emotions coming through in a single voice. Coupled with the smile cracked while exchanging Night Train slugs with the kooky preacher, this is the most human, vulnerable, and endearing Loomis there has ever been. It comes from a mixture of the script lightening up the character and Pleasence warming to the realization that he features in a slasher film franchise, and devoting serious Shakespearean actor energy isn’t a full-time requirement here.
Meeting Pleasence in the “perhaps never better” category is Danielle Harris in her feature film debut. Playing sweet, innocent, haunted, and terrified, sometimes in the same moment, Harris delivers an unexpectedly layered performance for an inexperienced child actor. The way her eyes dart frantically as she searches the streets for her foster sister teases the edge of overdoing visible fright while still retaining believability.
Something else that “Halloween 4” does better than most other “Halloween” films is keeping its useless characters to a minimum. “Halloween II” in particular devotes a double-digit chunk of minutes to following people whose only purpose is to be killed or to deliver disposable dialogue before disappearing completely.
“Halloween 4” has both of these too, but not to the same noticeable degree. Characters such as Bucky the doomed power station worker and an unknown mechanic only have as much screen time as necessary to set up their deaths. Though there are still space wasters like Brady’s friend Wade who exists merely to try on sunglasses and get shot down by the sheriff’s daughter, and Rachel’s friend Lindsey, who is so forgettable that the end credits mistake her name as “Leslie.”
One character that “Halloween 4” regrettably screws up is arguably the most important role of all. Sorry George Wilbur fans, but this performance of Michael Myers is terrible. I will contend that this does not fall entirely on Wilbur’s shoulders, however.
First, this version of the iconic blank-face mask is awful. The original Shatner mask has a subtle pursing between the brow, depicted on the “Halloween 4” theatrical poster as well, that adds a hint of evil to the static expression. But this recast face is so blank that it bears no personality at all, and the smoothly-combed Pat Riley hairstyle would make a real person with this look an easy target for any grade-school bully.
Also working against Wilbur is the lack of crafty Dean Cundey camerawork to amplify the creepiness. “Halloween” has so many iconic shots of The Shape silhouetted in shadows. The cowboy stance at the top of the staircase. Carrying Annie’s body while sounds from “The Thing” play in the background. Sitting up and turning his head. Even “Halloween II” has its memorable Michael moments such as The Shape clutching his face as he bleeds from both eyeholes.
What’s the most memorable image of Michael in “Halloween 4?” The full daylight dolly/zoom-in when Loomis first sees him at the gas station diner? George Wilbur’s first turn as The Shape is less of a performance and more of a matter-of-fact mannequin moving through the motions as written in the script. He is missing the sedated pit bull attitude that Nick Castle added. It’s odd that Wilbur is the tallest of any actor to play The Shape, yet feels so diminutive, partially because the mask looks tiny atop his stuntman build.
Michael’s behavior in “Halloween 4” is even more inconsistent than Loomis’. Michael dispatches Judith fairly swiftly in the opening scene of “Halloween.” Immediately after finding Laurie’s hospital bed at Haddonfield Memorial in “Halloween II,” he hastily stabs a lump of pillows presumed to be his other sister. Yet when it comes to killing his niece Jamie, Michael concocts a laborious scheme involving slaughtering the entire staff of a sheriff’s station and taking out the town’s electricity, too.
If someone asked you to name the address of your neighborhood’s local power station, could you do it? Somehow, Michael’s knowledge of Haddonfield’s map and his mobility to breeze through it effortlessly are simply remarkable. Almost as uncanny is his ability to know which vehicles to stowaway in, not once, but twice. Michael’s unrivaled anticipatory craftiness makes it difficult to believe that he would unnecessarily busy himself with silently slicing a deputy and slashing the sheriff’s daughter when the seven-year-old girl he is really after is asleep in a bed upstairs. Michael makes one simple premeditated murder a far bigger event than it needs to be.
Other cheesy bits cheapen the production. Not just silly story elements such as a drunken posse, but things like employing enough stock gunshot SFX to rival an all-night movie marathon of black-and-white westerns. Pa-ping! Puh-pew! Did the sound editor dig out this audio library from the cobwebbed vaults of “Bonanza?”
Despite the tone of the preceding 1,500 words, I’m not saying that “Halloween 4” is a bad “Halloween” sequel, or even a bad movie. A fair portion of its odd nature can be attributed to the time it was made, and trends that were popular then. When viewed as a chapter in a larger arc that has much deeper dips of disappointment, “Halloween 4” practically shines like a polished jewel. From that same perspective, it also sticks out as featuring some outrageously contrived bits nearly as wild as where the storyline goes next. “Halloween 4” stands as a serviceable sequel, although it is closer to being a formulaic “Friday the 13th” slasher than a tense “Halloween” suspense thriller.
Review Score: 60