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When Halloween III: The Season of the Witch tanked, I think we lost something. The idea of that film was to create a year anthology series of stories that weren’t connected to each other, but that were Halloween themed. Sure, looking back at it, it’s a minor classic and a far better film than the disappointed thousands expected to see. But because it tanked critically and underperformed at the box office, the series returned to its slasher roots with the fourth film. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers takes the series back to its roots. As the title tells us, Michael is back with his William Shatner mask and knife, and carnage will ensue.
We’re going to have some problems right away. Halloween II ends with Michael Myers blinded and burned, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) also evidently killed, and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) being taken to a new hospital by ambulance. Well, we can’t have any of that if we’re going to be bringing Michael Myers back, can we? So we’re going to retcon pretty much everything that happened in Halloween II.
How much are we retconning? Well, we learn soon enough that Laurie Strode is dead for some reason. We know this because one of the featured characters in this movie is her orphaned daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris). And, because we’re going to have Michael Myers return, he can’t be blind and burned to death. Since we need Michael out and killing in Haddonfield, we’re also going to have him more or less restored to physical health, if not mental health.
We’re also going to require cataclysmic idiocy to get things going. Michael, we are told, has been catatonic for 10 years, and is being transferred from one hospital to another. So when do they transfer him? The day before Halloween, of course. Naturally, Michael (played by George P. Wilbur under the mask this time) wakes up en route and kills everyone in the ambulance. Dr. Loomis finds out, and off we go.
Why is Michael targeting Jamie? Well, because we’re now firmly in the plot device that Laurie Strode was the sister of Michael Myers (introduced in Halloween II), which means that Jamie is his niece. So, of course he needs to try to kill her despite her being seven. Protecting Jamie is Rachel (Ellie Cornell), the daughter of her foster parents. Rachel is having trouble with her presumptive boyfriend Brady (Sasha Jenson). Because she has to watch Jamie on Halloween, Rachel is forced to break a date with him. In response, Brady runs off to hump Rachel’s friend Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont), which tells you all you need to know about the eventual fates of Kelly and Brady.
There are some really nice nods to the original film. For instance, Rachel takes Jamie shopping for a Halloween costume, and Jamie decides on the same clown outfit that Michael was wearing as a child when he kills his sister. We’re going to get a lot of shots of Jamie running away from Michael essentially dressed as Michael, which is pretty great.
But there isn’t a great deal more to recommend this movie. Halloween 4 falls into the same cycle as a typical slasher movie. We have the basic set-up of people laid out like lambs to the slaughter for our killer, who obliges them (and us) by killing them like clockwork. The fact that he happens to be chasing a 7-year-old girl rather than a teenager is mitigated by the fact that the 7-year-old is being protected by a teenager, so we get the tropes we expect. While the ending comes as a very mild shock, the rest of this is pretty much what you expect it to be. Just about everyone you would guess ends up on the wrong end of a knife does, and just about everyone you expect to make it to the other side intact does as well.
It feels like such a long fall between where the Halloween series started and where it got to. We began at a place that in many ways started the slasher subgenre, with a film that was truly frightening and relied on genuine scares to make it work. We end up with just another killing automaton mowing down everything and everyone in his path. There’s no wit or artifice to this film. There’s just mindless and expected death until the credits roll at the end.
Why to watch Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers: It’s a return to what we expect from the franchise.
Why not to watch: Sure, Michael Myers is back, but at what cost?