By 1988, Michael Myers was just a distant memory, having been left sizzling at the end of 1981s HALLOWEEN II (“a f***ing big mac, overdone!” to quote that sensitive orderly from THE BURNING (1981)). He was then completely ignored for 82’s failed experiment, HALLOWEEN III. Elsewhere, Jason was still making Paramount a pretty penny with FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE NW BLOOD (1987) and Freddy was hitting his commercial peak with the money making machine that was NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER (1988). Moustapha Akkad was obviously aware of the cash cow that HALLOWEEN could still be and resurrected the franchise after a 6 year hiatus.
It appears Michael has been kept alive on a life support machine, although I’m not sure he needed one, in the ten years since his bloody rampage of 78. The makers decide not to explain how he survived the fiery climax of HALLOWEEN II and thankfully (unlike FRIDAY 7 and NIGHTMARE 4) we are not asked to swallow some supernatural clap-trap like having a telekinetic girl accidentally revive him or have a dog reawaken him with some life-giving urine!
It’s October 30th and some bright spark decides this is the perfect day to transfer Mr Myers to another hospital. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, the Shape offs the ambulance crew in mid transit and scarpers back to Haddonfield to visit his recently orphaned niece Jamie (Danielle Harris).
Jamie, daughter of Laurie Strode (the start of some questionable continuity in the Halloween series) has been adopted by the Carruthers family. We are brought up to speed on all this thanks to some rather lazy expositional dialogue: Rachel - “We’re not really sisters Jamie, but that doesn’t mean I love you any less. I know you miss your parents, it hasn’t been that long” ... Jamie - “It’s been 11 months”.
Jamie is also well aware that her uncle is the bogeyman thanks to the constant taunts of her peers at the local school (who also chant the not so subtle “Jamie’s an orphan! Jamie’s an orphan!”). If that’s not bad enough for the poor girl, she is also haunted by traumatic dreams and visions of her uncle. With no friends her own age, Jamie relies on big foster-sis Rachel (Ellie Cornell) to take her trick or treating on Halloween night. Rachel, in the first of many moody strops, is miffed that she has to break off her hot date with scrunchy faced boyfriend, Brady, to baby-sit Jamie.
Rachel and Jamie get a lift to the local store and it is here that we meet the spectacular fashion disaster that is Lindsay, all grown up from the original movie and looking for all the world like the late 80s has vomited all over her. But before the true evil of back combing can sink in, she drives away and is curiously never seen again. At the store, Jamie spookily picks out a clown outfit identical to the one worn by little Michael the night it all began in 1963 (This points towards the ESP element that features so heavily in HALLOWEEN 5 (1989)). Whilst there she has another vision (or is it?) of her uncle.
Meanwhile, Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is in hot pursuit, scarred (slightly) and just a little loopy (severely) after the events of the first two films. How he, a mere mortal, survived the Michael Bay-esque explosion at the finale of HALLOWEEN II is just not worth pondering over. He catches up with Michael at a middle of nowhere service station, a bit too late to save the lives of the hapless staff but enough to see the Shape go for a joyride in a pick up truck. Lacking the hot wiring skills of his ex-patient, Loomis has to resort to hitching a ride to Haddonfield where he contacts Sheriff Meeker (Beau Starr) about the mayhem that is about to go down in his district.
As Jamie and Rachel go trick or treating, Rachel spots scrunchy faced Brady getting it on with the top heavy sheriff's daughter Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont), who is wearing a splendidly trashy ‘cops do it by the book’ t-shirt. Needless to say, prissy lil Rachel is less than impressed (blimey, talk about high maintenance!) and in the ensuing hissy fit, gets separated from Jamie.
The local police force, obviously believing Loomis story (he did, after all, prove them wrong 10 years earlier) enforce a curfew and track down the Shape's primary targets, Jamie and Rachel, and hole them up in sheriff Meeker's house for protection. However, an eavesdropping Michael finds out exactly where their secret hideaway is and before you can say “Watch out scrunchy face”, he’s in the house and wreaking his unique brand of mayhem. He doesn’t have it all his own way though, with vigilante rednecks and what remains of the police force on his tail
Confession time – I have never been a big fan of HALLOWEEN 4. I saw it in a cinema in Manchester in 1989 and found it to be bitterly disappointing and I have never really warmed to it on subsequent viewings. I know many regard it as the best of the sequels but personally I think it is lumbered with two of the blandest lead characters in Jamie and Rachel and the scenery chewing turn by Donald Pleasance is laughable. To me, it was always Jamie Lee Curtis who was the true star of the first two films and she is sorely missed here. George Wilbur isn’t particularly threatening as Michael Myers. He has a bulkier physique than previous Shapes but he is missing the subtle, creepy mannerisms of Nick Castle and Dick Warlock from the first two entries. Oh, and did I mention that Brady's face is distractingly scrunchy? Only Kathleen Kinmont really shines as the sassy and tarty Kelly.
There are portions of the film where all that happens is that Rachel wanders around shouting “Jamie” and Jamie wanders around shouting “Rachel”. The writing appears rushed and apparently that was the case, with Alan B McElroy admitting on the recent DVD re-issue that he had to throw the script together in record time to avoid a writers guild strike.
I’m guessing that the relative failure of the wonderful HALLOWEEN III (and to a lesser extent the below par performance of the also wonderful HALLOWEEN II), led to a back to basics approach for HALLOWEEN 4 . And one of its major flaws is that it tries, and fails, to be too like the original HALLOWEEN. It has its heart in the right place and the attempt to create a serious high quality sequel is there for everyone to see. But I don’t think they pull it off. At times, the direction is flatter than the Dutch countryside and never comes close to capturing the cinematic, widescreen thrills of the first two movies. And if its buckets of grue and a little t&a you’re after then you’ll also be sorely disappointed.
On a positive note, the opening credits sequence is beautifully put together with its quietly eerie shots of autumnal twilight, accompanied by the spooky atmospherics of Alan Howarth's droning score. The scenes with Michael's visage wrapped in bandages are genuinely creepy and far more effective than when he finally gets hold of his trademark mask (which famously sprouts blonde hair in one hilarious continuity flub). Having Michael pursued for most of the film, albeit in a futile manner, by not just Loomis but a motley crew of cops and rednecks, is an interesting shift from the standard slasher formula of having the main characters completely oblivious to what’s going on until the last 10 minutes. The final scene is genuinely shocking and a really brave way for the filmmakers to end the movie and bring the franchise full circle, it’s just a shame this plot point was undone to a certain degree at the start of HALLOWEEN 5. On the subject of which, of the late 80s HALLOWEEN duo I would have to say that I prefer part 5, warts and all (the comedy cops being a particularly big wart). At least 5's trashy excesses raise it out of the quagmire of tedium that HALLOWEEN 4 gets stuck into for long stretches. THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS is like an Enya song – inoffensive and just a tad dull. HALLOWEEN 5 is more along the lines of the bubblegum pop of Bananarama, not exactly high art but at least you can dance to it.
It would be foolish of us to expect anyone to ever emulate the brilliance of the original in one of the sequels. By 1988, the big horror franchises had begun to run out of steam and to give HALLOWEEN 4 its due, it is better than its fiercest rivals of that year (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 7 was beyond mediocre and NIGHTMARE 4 was just a shallow and gaudy FX showcase) but perhaps that’s just damning with faint praise. Maybe if they could have made the two leads a little less whiny and shrill and given Donald Pleasance some dialogue that wasn’t so laughable, things might have been different. Apologies Shape fans, as much as I love the series I have to say this is one of the weakest entries. I’d even go so far as to say that I prefer even the much reviled HALLOWEEN: RESSURECTION (2002)! Please don’t hate me, God made me this way.
female:3 / male:13
1) Male gets thumb in forehead (!)
2) Female killed off-screen
3) Male killed off-screen
4) Male stabbed in chest
5) Male killed off-screen
6) Male electrocuted
7) Male killed off-screen
8) Male shot
9) Male killed off-screen
10) Female impaled with rifle
11) Male has neck broken
12) Male stabbed
13) Male stabbed
14) Male thrown from moving truck
15) Male has throat ripped out
16) Female stabbed