Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) **½

     Being blowed up isn’t “hanging out drinking with your buddies” kind of dead. It’s “little pieces of you being swept up by a janitor” dead, and I don’t think you’re ready for that.

     —Xander Harris, The Zeppo


     Moustapha Akkad, as it turned out, wasn’t ready for that, either. It was one thing for John Carpenter and Debra Hill to blow up both Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis at the end of Halloween II, but then they went and blew up the franchise itself with Halloween III: Season of the Witch. As the 80’s wore on, and the popularity of movies that never would have existed without Halloween’s guiding example showed no sign of abating, Akkad (by then the last producer standing out of the bunch that had gotten the original Halloween made in 1978) found himself left out of the continuing slasher bonanza. Fortuitously, however, the clear leader among the competitors who were out-competing him blundered into very much the same fix as Akkad in 1984, and spent the next two years perfecting a profitable solution. Now I don’t know for a fact that Akkad took his cues for rescuing the Halloween franchise from Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives, but his well-documented case of Jason-envy demonstrates that he was at least paying some attention to the rival series. And there’s simply no denying that Akkad followed exactly the same route out of the trap as Paramount. In Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, he simply brought the fans’ preferred villain back into action, without a word of acknowledgement for the fact that there shouldn’t have been enough physically left of him to resurrect. The Return of Michael Myers went a step further than Jason Lives, too, by resurrecting its hero just as shamelessly.

     The closest Halloween 4 ever comes to admitting the magnitude of its cheating is a tossed-off line of dialogue early on, in which a character breezily asserts that incarcerated spree killer Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur, from Firestarter and The Running Man) was burned nearly to death at the end of his rampage through Haddonfield, Illinois, ten years ago, together with his psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence once again). The participants in that conversation are a security guard at the federally managed maximum security loony bin where Michael has spent the intervening decade, and a pair of psychiatrists from the institution to which he is slated to be transferred this October 30th. The decision to move Michael was made without input from Dr. Loomis, even though he remains the patient’s psychiatrist of record. That’s because Dr. Hoffman (Michael Pataki, of Dead & Buried and The Baby), who runs the federal asylum, considers the elder shrink to be only marginally less crazy than Myers himself, albeit with a less harmful symptomology. Hoffman will find reason to revise that view tomorrow, when word reaches him that Myers emerged from his ten-year catatonia en route to the other hospital, massacred the crew of the ambulance transporting him, and vanished into the night. Loomis, who was just giving Hoffman a piece of his mind when the bad news was delivered, is sure he knows where the killer will be going. After all, it’s Halloween, and the tenth anniversary of Michael’s infamous Haddonfield highjinks.

     Now you’ll recall that Halloween II catastrophically rectconned Michael into being Laurie Strode’s forgotten older brother. You’ll perhaps also recall that Jamie Lee Curtis was busy making A Fish Called Wanda when Halloween 4 was under production, and therefore had neither the time nor the give-a-fucks to spare for a project like this one, even if Moustapha Akkad had been able to afford her anymore. Consequently, the four writers that it took to make Halloween 4 happen have married, bred, and killed Laurie off, all offstage. They don’t even bother to mention how Laurie and her husband died! The upshot of all that is that when Michael comes to Haddonfield this time, he’ll be hunting not his sister, but the eight-year-old niece whom he shouldn’t even know he has.

     Laurie’s daughter is called Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris, later of Urban Legend and Hatchet II). Evidently her parents’ deaths left her with no living relatives other than Crazy Uncle Michael, because she’s been taken in by Richard (Jeff Olson, from The Crow: Salvation and Neon City) and Darlene (Face of Evil’s Karen Alston) Carruthers, the parents of one of the children for whom Laurie used to babysit when she was a teenager. The girl in question, Rachel (Ellie Cornell, from House of the Dead and The Darkroom), is now an adolescent herself, which unfortunately for Jamie means that her commitment to making her new foster sister feel like part of the family sometimes seems more theoretical than actual.

     This Halloween is one of those occasions, as Rachel reacts with positively theatrical dismay to being told that unforeseen circumstances will keep mom and dad out until late this evening. You see, tonight was supposed to be Rachel’s long-angled-for first date with Brady (Sasha Jenson, of Ghoulies II and Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the most sought-after boy in the senior class. It’ll undo the work of months if Rachel has to stay home and look after Jamie instead! Rachel’s sense of injustice is further compounded by the fact that the kid doesn’t even celebrate Halloween (which, for understandable reasons, her mother treated as the exact opposite of a holiday). It happens, though, that this year, Jamie has changed her mind. Maybe it’s just that this is her first Halloween without her mom, or maybe she’s finally tired of the other kids at school taunting her for her nonconformity, or maybe it’s even as simple as a conscious decision to stand up to her own fears, but this year, Jamie wants to get dressed up and go trick-or-treating. Rachel is puzzled, but this sudden turn of events does at least mean that she won’t be cooped up in the house all evening long after all. Also, Brady happens to work at a drug store where Rachel could take Jamie costume shopping, so there’ll be a chance for the elder “sister” to cancel her date under the least-bad practicable circumstances. Even so, Brady is sullenly unimpressed, and Rachel will later catch him handing out candy in company with a conspicuously braless and pantsless Kelly Meeker (Kathleen Kinamont, from Phoenix the Warrior and Bride of Re-Animator), Haddonfield High School’s foremost party girl.

     Meanwhile, Kelly’s father, Sheriff Ben Meeker (Beau Starr, of Dead Silence and Relentless), is making the acquaintance of Dr. Loomis. Frankly, Meeker shares Dr. Hoffman’s assessment of the scar-faced old man, but Haddonfield has never forgotten the name of Michael Myers. Even a visibly batty outsider rolling into town with word that Haddonfield’s least favorite son is on his way back home is going to find a receptive audience around here. That doesn’t just go for Meeker and his fellow cops, either. Rumors spread quickly in small towns, and it doesn’t take long for a vigilante posse of drunken rednecks to form up around Earl (Gene Ross, from Scum of the Earth and Don’t Look in the Basement), the proprietor of the local roadhouse. Of course, those men have even less idea what they’re about to get themselves into than Meeker and his deputies.

     Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is what I think of as a “damage done” sequel. That is, it’s a bit on the lame side, which I normally find extra-damning in a sequel to a bona fide classic like Halloween, but the intervening two films stunk up the place so badly that I give it a pass just for not being as bad as either of them. It’s full of implausibilities both great and small (probably the greatest of all being what Kelly Meeker wears while answering the door for trick-or-treaters), it displays all the usual technical weaknesses of a hurriedly-made late-80’s fright flick, and the subtitle character has by this point lost all of his original distinction and menace. Even the fucking mask has suffered a noticeable comedown! (The Don Post Studios Captain Kirk mask that was redressed to become the original face of Michael Myers was long out of production by 1988, so the costumers had to look elsewhere for a generic latex face this time around. I never realized how much personality the old mask had until I got a good look at this sorry substitute.) It is therefore a measure of how low this series had already sunk that none of those objections are inconsistent with the verdict that The Return of Michael Myers was easily the best Halloween sequel to date.

     Halloween 4 does offer just a bit of cause for affirmative praise, however. At the very least, I have to give this film credit for steering so far clear of the usual slasher movie plot structure. With this broad a canvass (all of Haddonfield instead of just a single house, hospital, or other location) and this well-populated a target gallery, there’s simply no prospect of the usual steady winnowing of the cast. If anything, Halloween 4 owes more to The Terminator than it does to any previous film within its own nominal subgenre. The writers of this movie are also to be commended for remembering how much strength the original Halloween drew from the fact that Laurie wasn’t just fighting for her own life, but for those of the children she had been watching when Michael caught up to her. Halloween 4 recapitulates that dynamic by keeping Rachel constantly in between the killer and his target, making her essentially Kyle Reese to Jamie’s Sarah Connor. I wish I could say that these sorts of small touches added up to more than mere adequacy. Even mere adequacy is more than the last two Halloween installments managed, however.



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