Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

4 out of 5

Directed by: Dwight H. Little

The first Halloween is undeniably a classic, but I’m left to wonder how much of its modern appreciation is due to that tag versus its qualifications as a film.  Carpenter executes some killer shots throughout, and there are some key great moments – and the ‘undeniable’ part of its classic quality is that it essentially started the whole slasher genre – but it’s also rather roughly edited, and sort of sloppy and silly at points.  Other horror classics of the ongoing-sequels variety – Freddy, Jason – I generally find that the original entries are still effective nowadays, but Halloween has always seemed a little fuzzy in that sense.

Halloween II doesn’t seem to get much acclaim from fans (I’m supposing because of a key plot element which came to define things going forward, as well as the way it mirrors the first movie but then tacks on “lessons” from the slashers that had come between it and the original), but I found I really enjoyed it, and considered it to perhaps be a better flick overall.

III is tough to evaluate in a Halloween context, for sure, but it’s an enjoyably oddball movie on its own.

Halloween 4 tends to get held in equal or near-to-it regard as the first Halloween.  As I move forward with my first-time viewings of subsequent flicks in the franchise, given my mixed takes on the preceding entries, I’m incredibly uncertain what to expect: will I agree with the fandom?  Will I like this series?

I like this series.  I like Michael Myers.  And I really liked Halloween IV.  While I might have this wishy-washiness when comparing I vs. II, I can still agree: IV is on par with whichever flick can be said to have previously set the high bar.  IV is a smart “righting” of the ship after the questionable direction III attempted, and it accomplishes this by doing something that Carpenter admittedly nailed on the first go-around: by making the fear legit, and handling things with a straight face.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t some humorous elements – Loomis is still over-the-top; Haddonfield’s seeming sudden surge of a hick population is amusing – but it treats Myers and his legacy seriously, and if not for some wonky killer-transportation logic gaps towards the end, the buildup to its final third (and that third itself) is often quite terrifying.

The setup is as pleasingly simple as both I and II, in that it essentially boils down to Myers escaping (10 years after the last time) and heading straight to Haddonfield, with Loomis (Donald Pleasance) – all a’burned after a retcon has him and Myers surviving II’s conclusion – in pursuit, but director Dwight H. Little and writer Alan b. McElroy have Haddonfield’s inhabitants learning from past mistakes: the Sheriff (Beau Starr) pretty immediately listens to Loomis, and although the aforementioned hicks are rather hickly keen to jump in their trucks and shoot shotguns, it shows that the town remembers Michael and is ready to act accordingly.

Loomis quickly pieces together that Myers is after his niece, Jamie (Danielle Harris), who’s been living under the care of another family.  The flick is able to milk some good scenes from Jamie’s active imagination, which has Myers constantly popping up to do her harm; while the tactic of, essentially, having these stalk-and-kill sequences be dreams may seem cheap, I don’t think it’s ever obscured in a way to try and convince the audience.  In this way, IV avoids having to bring in Myers too early – in fact, it can keep teasing us regarding when he’ll actually appear – and can also play up some ‘supernatural’ aspects of the character (appearing in several places at once, for example) without it actually being the “reality.”  So it effectively builds up Myers presence.  This maybe gets a little confuzzled by an interaction Loomis has with him at a gas station, in which Myers seems to magically disappear, but Loomis needed something to get flustered about on his way to Haddonfield, so we’ll let that pass.

When we do finally get to Myers assault(s) on Jamie – she and several others are locked up in a house while waiting for further police support to arrive – it is legitimately scary stuff.  Director Little should be applauded for knowing how / when to cut away from gore and violence to maintain its impact, and he doesn’t show his hand too early on moments where you know Mike is going to pop up.  All of the business leading up to the house (in which the streets empty out as everyone runs home, of course leaving Jamie on her lonesome) and events in the house itself are all masterfully executed.  George P. Wilbur’s Myers, while the mask and the oddly padded costume are a little weird, is also super scary, ditching the head-cocking observational stuff for a beast who just barrels forward, no matter what.  Myers in I and II matched those films, for sure, but just as this flick took the Halloween setup and added some further awareness to it, Wilbur’s approach seemed like the right update to Myers to make him most fitting for this entry.

As mentioned, the flick starts to play a little too loose with getting the killer from point A to B towards the very end of the movie, which unfortunately deflates the suspense somewhat, but then you get a truly killer (no pun intended) coda, which is one of the best horror ending sequences of all time, in my mind.