Why Halloween 4 (1988) is one of my favorite flicks to watch for the Samhain season.
John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) made a shit-ton more money than anyone was betting it would, and that ending just screamed for a follow-up. Carpenter never intended to make any sequels, but was legally forced into making one for contractual reasons. The mixed result was Halloween II (1981), which takes place on the same night as the original. The Shape is still on the loose in Haddonfield in 1978, with Dr. Loomis and the fuzz in hot pursuit. Laurie Strode is taken to the local hospital for her injuries, and the Shape follows her there, stalking and slashing through the entire graveyard shift. Meanwhile, Loomis comes to suspect that Michael Myers is driven to kill by some kind of “druidic curse.” The final act begins when it’s revealed that Laurie is actually Michael’s younger sister, whom he apparently meant to kill in 1963 along with his elder sibling Judith. All hell breaks loose when Dr. Loomis shows up at the hospital to save Laurie and blow himself and the Shape to smithereens.
Halloween II broke some big box office records of its own, so it was only a matter of time before another sequel would be greenlit. Carpenter insisted on taking the series in a new direction, turning it into an anthology like The Twilight Zone. Hence why Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) has nothing at all to do with the Michael Myers storyline. I will save my analysis of Halloween III for later, but suffice it to say for now that the film was not very well received by audiences at the time, making the Shape’s resurrection inevitable.
Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger were making big bank in the mid- to late 1980s, and executive producer Moustapha Akkad was determined that Michael Myers should do the same. He approached John Carpenter for his input on a potential Halloween 4, but the two of them just couldn’t see eye to eye. Carpenter pitched a really weird script by horror novelist Dennis Etchinson that has the Shape returning from the dead as some kind of reality-bending ghost. It’s actually pretty neat, but Akkad just wanted to “go back to the basics” (or “Xerox the original” according to Carpenter), and Carpenter sold his interest in the franchise. Akkad then assembled his own creative team, headed by director Dwight H. Little, and produced Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers in 1988. The end product is not quite as interesting as what Dennis Etchinson cooked up for us, but it still turned out pretty awesome in my book.
Halloween 4 ignores its immediate predecessor and picks up 10 years after the events of the first two movies, which technically makes it Michael Myers’ second killing spree. It also rewrites the ending of Halloween II so the Shape and Dr. Loomis weren’t immolated in that hospital explosion after all; they were burned and disfigured, but survived. Myers has been in a coma at a maximum security prison ever since, and Dr. Loomis has never left his side. Presumably the prison staff are tired of Loomis always demanding they take his patient off life support, for they arrange to have Myers transferred to some other facility across the state without the doctor’s knowledge. This might not have turned out so bad, except they decide to do this on the night of October 30. To make shit worse, the paramedics transporting the prisoner stupidly discuss the fact that Laurie Strode, while now deceased from a car accident, had a daughter named Jamie Lloyd (nice touch), who is currently living with a foster family back in Haddonfield. That’s when the “comatose” Michael Myers snaps into action and butchers every motherfucker in the ambulance; then he returns to Haddonfield and relentlessly stalks his niece the following Halloween night.
While it is extremely derivative of the 1978 original, Halloween 4 is actually a pretty fantastic movie, and there are two primary reasons for this. First, Donald Pleasence really shines as Dr. Loomis in this one. In fact, he is practically an action movie hero here, doing all kinds of crazy stunts (the exploding gas station sequence being one of my favorite scenes in the entire franchise). This shit could not have been easy for a 69-year-old WWII veteran to do, but Donald Pleasence did it anyway, and I love him for it. I can’t stress enough how his character is really what kept me coming back for more of these movies when I was a young’un. Seeing Dr. Loomis stick it to the authorities and risk his life and reputation to rescue a scared and defenseless 9-year-old girl always makes my heart glow! Plus, virtually everything he says throughout Halloween 4 is a classic one-liner. I think of Dr. Loomis as being an avatar of Set in these movies: the grim, doomy outcast who hunts down the evil regardless of whether he is ever thanked or recognized for doing so, and who is every bit as relentless in this pursuit as Michael Myers is in stalking his niece.
Which brings us to the second reason why Halloween 4 is so awesome: Danielle Harris, the talented young lady who plays Jamie Lloyd. There was simply no better child actor in the 1980s than Harris. If I didn’t know any better (and I do), I’d think the filmmakers were actually trying to kill her. This was definitely not the case, as every effort was made to make Harris feel totally comfortable with George P. Wilbur, the stuntman who plays the Shape. She also got to hang out with Donald Pleasence between shoots, and he would tell her all kinds of crazy stories (which must have been fuckin’ awesome). But when Harris screams or runs away from the Shape on film, she really SELLS it, making me want to leap through my TV screen and save her myself!
There is something to be said for the fact that Myers stalks a child for this venture. Other popular horror sequels at the time were becoming self-parodies, with slashers like Jason and Freddy getting up to all kinds of goofy hijinks (like going to Manhattan, or appearing in music videos by the hair metal band, Dokken). Having the Shape target a little girl really heightens the stakes in comparison, especially when we remember that Laurie Strode was a teenager in 1978 and could actually fight back against Michael. But Jamie depends on the adults around her to do all the fighting for her, and when most of those adults AREN’T Dr. Loomis, the situation is made even more suspenseful.
Halloween 4 is superior to Halloween II for several important reasons. While certain aspects of the latter film are classic and iconic in their own right (such as the hospital setting and the idea of having it take place on the same night as the first movie), the film is dreadfully paced (that entire second act is a total snoozefest), there is too much absurdist gore, and the bits about Celtic religion are especially distracting (given they are pure gibberish). The “family vendetta” premise nullifies the idea from the first movie that Myers is completely arbitrary in his actions (which is a much scarier idea to me personally). And while his newfound motive would seem to give Laurie a role of central importance, Halloween II puts her character to little use, rendering her drugged, silent, and powerless until the conclusion. But here in Halloween 4, the pacing is just right, the amount of gore is significantly reduced, and we don’t have to sit through any of that anti-druidic bullshit. Also, Danielle Harris’ performance as Jamie is so fucking intense, it makes me forget how stupid the “family vendetta” storyline from Halloween II really is.
Halloween 4 takes a big risk by not only presumably killing Michael Myers once and for all, but by passing his curse on to Jamie, driving her to re-enact her uncle’s original murder in 1963 by stabbing her foster-mother to death. The film ends with Dr. Loomis discovering what Jamie has done and screaming hysterically, understanding immediately that the Shape has now taken a new incarnation. Given this set-up, Halloween 5 seemed ready to begin in 2003 (15 years later), with a full-grown female Shape terrorizing everybody on Halloween that year. Something like that might have been pretty damn cool; but we ended up with a lot of bullshit instead.