Money talks. And Halloween III was a financial failure in comparison to Halloween II. Was it just a bad movie? Or was it the lack of series’ staple Michael Myers? You can make your own decisions, but the producers of the Halloween certainly decided that the lack of Michael was the reason Halloween III was such a critical and commercial misfire. It only took them six years to revive the mythical killer, but in 1988 Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers stormed into theaters and no Halloween film since then hasn’t had the iconic killer since.
Spoilers for Halloween 4 Follow
Longtime series producer Moustapha Akkad was so shaken by the poor reception of Halloween III that he made it a priority that any return to the series must include Michael Myers. Akkad was less concerned with making an iconic film and more with delivering something that would please audiences. Carpenter and Hill were once again brought on board and had Dennis Etchison write a script. Etchison’s script took place after the events in Haddonfield in previous films, Haddonfield now rejected Halloween and Etchison said, “I think that the basic idea was that if you tried to suppress something, it would only rear its head more strongly.”
However, Akkad rejected Etchison’s script. Carpenter and Hill, unable to find an agreement with Akkad, sold the rights to the franchise to Akkad and didn’t include Etchison’s script. Etchison was informed that everybody was parting ways over a phone call from Hill. Ouch. Akkad brought on other screenwriters and director Dwight H. Little for the project which was intended to go back to basics. This marks a major point in the series as now the original creators were no longer involved and the beginning of the series true sequel-ization process began.
Halloween 4 ignores III completely. It’s been ten years (in real life as well-Halloween 4 was released on the tenth anniversary of the original) since Michael Myers was killed in the hospital at the end of Halloween II. Except that no, he didn’t die in that fiery explosion that consumed his entire body. He survived and has been in a coma for ten years. Of course, on October 30th, his body is being transferred to a new location, and while en route, Michael overhears news of living relatives. Michael awakens from his coma (of course without a single bit of atrophy) and kills the drivers. I really shouldn’t have to tell you where he is now headed.
Meanwhile in Haddonfield, a young girl named Jamie is having very vivid visions of Michael Myers. We learn that Jamie is actually Laurie Strode’s orphaned daughter now living with a foster family. If you assume the pre-Zombie-era Halloween films all exist on a single timeline, then by that logic Laurie Strode had Jamie, abandoned her, moved across the country and had another son who she then raised and fought Michael with. But continuity isn’t quite the focus. Nevertheless, Jamie (played by Danielle Harris) is being understandably unnerved by her visions. Not only is she being haunted by visions of a killer, Jamie is tormented mercilessly at school by her peers who rag on her for being related to Michael Myers.
However, Jamie does have a stable and loving family in her foster family, and is very close with her older sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell). To console Jamie, who understandably has no intention of trick-r-treating, Rachel decides to take her costume shopping and take her out that night so she can be a normal kid. Jamie looks for a costume, and finds one eerily similar to the costume Michael wore as a child when he killed his sister. This triggers another vision which scares Jamie, and Rachel takes her home to help calm her down. I find this to be a particular strength of the movie. Their relationship is genuine and believable, and for some reason it feels rare to see a loving bond between sisters on screen, particularly in a horror movie. Rachel and Jamie are well-developed characters; do you know how rare this is for a horror movie? Danielle Harris as Jamie also deserves special mention, her performance is a standout among child actors in any movie.
After Michael escapes, word of this inevitably reaches Dr. Loomis, now burned and scarred by the explosion years earlier and noticeably worse for the wear. But Loomis (still carried by Donald Pleasance) has not forgotten his sense of duty and races to Haddonfield. Michael is already back on the killing path. Michael destroys a power station, putting Haddonfield in the literal dark as well as rendering it defenseless by killing most at the police station. As word of Michael’s killing begins to spread, the town starts to lose its cool. A lynch mob springs up, and the police frantically try and get help from the next town over. The Sheriff and Loomis track down Jamie and Rachel, and they Home Alone style barricade a house to hold up in with a few locals. Understandably, Michael tears through and kills everybody before Jamie and Rachel escape to a nearby school.
Michael follows to the school and attacks them before being fought off. Jamie and Rachel get a ride from some members of the lynch mob to the next town, but Michael has stowed away on their truck. He kills the mob members causing the truck to crash in a ditch. Rachel and Jamie escape just as the police and mob show up to fill Michael with enough bullets to kill Sylvester Stallone. Michael’s body falls dead down a mineshaft and it is finally over.
At this point, Halloween 4 has given audiences exactly what they wanted. More Michael, more Loomis, and more slashing. Halloween 4 wins no points for creativity or originality in this department though the slashing isn’t as lazy or cliched as it could be I suppose. It still put in some effort and retained some charm of the series. But the ending is what lets the film live on and be so highly regarded in the series. The ending is so memorable and unnerving, that I’ll let you watch it for yourselves.
I’d understand if you didn’t have chills, especially with so little context. But this really is one hell of an ending. For starters, seeing Dr. Loomis break is tragic (god bless you Donald). The music also kicks in perfectly with just enough instrumental variation that lets audiences know this is new. This is worse.
I love this ending. I might even love this ending more than the original. I’m not saying anything bad about the original film’s ending, it still is perfect. But decades later it was so expected for me. I knew Michael would survive somehow. The killer always survives. Somehow. Going into the first film I knew there’d be a cliffhanger of some sort, and in Halloween it’s done quite well, especially since the immediate story is still complete. I don’t like a horror movie ending that indicates either the story isn’t done. I don’t hate sequels, we need to learn they won’t go away, but the original film needs to satisfactorily wrap up the immediate story (coughcoughMarvelStudioscough). Halloween did this well, but Halloween 4 goes to an even more unpredictable ending. I expected a final shot of Michael’s dead body to shudder with life right as the screen went black. But as Jamie put on her costume, I knew we were going in an entirely different direction. It was unexpected and unnerving, and that’s exactly what it should have been.
Halloween 4 wasn’t beloved upon its release, but really no film after II was loved. Aspects of it such as the ending and acting of the leads were praised, but there isn’t much love outside of that. Despite the disdain, this is one of the best entries in the series and ranks up there as my second (maybe third) favorite Halloween film. The movie isn’t particularly imaginative or original outside of the Jamie and Rachel character arcs. Notice how the teen romantic drama I’ve chosen to ignore completely because you can already guess what it entailed. One wonders how much slasher fatigue must have set in as there had been seven Friday the 13th outings and four Nightmares On Elm Street by that point. Halloween 4 didn’t do anything memorable in the killing and that’s a problem, but the story outside the slashing was intriguing though the conclusion set up by the ending would be wasted in the sequel. Halloween 4 is also the movie that seeded the idea of Michael being a supernatural presence (though this was alluded to in II as well). It’s cliched but necessary. How else would he survive the shooting gallery at the end? But that supernatural presence is inconsistently maintained for the rest of the series. It was a necessary though not a particularly groundbreaking evolution for the character (though does he ever get real character development?) I also should probably mention this is the film where Michael starts to have superhuman strength, and he has a few kills with his bare hands that would indicate he’s got the fists of a god.
Until Jamie Lee Curtis’ return to the series, this is the last entry that had genuinely likable (much less memorable) protagonists (something Rob Zombie would eschew completely). But I like Halloween 4 quite a bit. And really that ending is chilling. But there still wasn’t enough Michael Myers or Dr. Loomis outside of the well-done sister drama. Though what little Loomis we get is good, and his screams of terror at the end get me right at the core. There is fat in the film, and the slashing isn’t worth it, but the lean story works when it’s focused on Jamie, Rachel, Loomis, and Michael. If one picked only three Halloween films to watch, this is one of them. At this point in the series, we’re done doing anything original outside of inventive ways to give Michael a stabbing gallery. But this one at least gives you characters to root for.