Wednesday, September 12, 2018

40 Years of Halloween - Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

Michael Myers returns for Cody's favorite Halloween sequel.

Producers John Carpenter (who also directed the first Halloween) and Debra Hill had meant to leave Halloween and Halloween II slasher Michael Myers behind and turn the franchise into an anthology of horror films that would all be set around the Halloween holiday but wouldn't be connected to each other storywise. Halloween III: Season of the Witch was their attempt at getting that anthology idea rolling... but after that film was released, it was clear that the anthology approach wasn't going to be continued. Halloween III was always going to be the anomaly that it remains to this day.

Dissatisfied with the Halloween III experiment, producer Moustapha Akkad was adamant that Myers would be returning for the next sequel. Carpenter and Hill hired writer Dennis Etchison, who they had worked with on the novelizations of The Fog, Halloween II, and Halloween III, to write a Halloween 4 that would be set on the 10th anniversary of the events of the original Halloween and have Myers reappearing in the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois in some way. Etchison's idea was more supernatural than the first two Halloweens, but Myers would be killing people again, and characters from the previous films would be featured - the main characters were going to be Tommy Doyle and Lindsey Wallace, the children who were being babysat in the first Halloween, now teenagers. Police officer Gary Hunt, introduced in Halloween II, would be the town sheriff. One of the locations would be the Lost River Drive-In, which was mentioned in a line of dialogue in Halloween II. Etchison completed a draft of the script and Piranha / The Howling director Joe Dante was meant to direct (as he had briefly been attached to direct Halloween III). Then Akkad rejected Etchison's script, as he didn't like the supernatural elements. He wanted something more straightforward and down-to-earth. So Carpenter and Hill sold their piece of the Halloween rights to him and moved on.

Etchison's ideas weren't used, except for the basic idea of the sequel being set on Halloween of 1988, and Tommy and Lindsey didn't end up being the main characters, but teenagers named Tommy and Lindsey do make appearances in the final film.

Others worked on the script after Etchison; Dhani Lipsius, Larry Rattner, and Benjamin Ruffner all receive story credits on Halloween 4, but I've never heard details on what they wrote and the film is the only writing credit for two of them. The writer whose script was brought to the screen by director Dwight H. Little was Alan B. McElroy, who knocked out a draft in the eleven days he had before the Writers Guild would be going on strike. Given that the finished film is almost exactly the script McElroy wrote that quickly, it's pretty impressive that it holds together so well - but it's also pretty clear that he was often sticking closely to the scenes and structure of the first Halloween.

By now we know exactly what a Halloween remake would be like, but for years I said that Halloween 4, while being a sequel, was like a remake of the original film. It's a very similar movie, it just takes scenarios from its predecessor and makes them bigger and flashier.

Ten years have passed since the events of Halloween and Halloween II, and after being caught in an explosion at the end of II Michael Myers has spent those years lying in a coma in Ridgemont Federal Sanitarium, four hours away from Haddonfield. This time of peace comes to an end on the night of October 30th, when a medical team shows up at Ridgemont to transfer the unconscious maniac over to Smith's Grove Sanitarium, the place where he had been locked up from 1963 to '78. In the first movie, Myers escaped from Smith's Grove on Halloween when he was about to be escorted to a court appearance - so similar scenarios.

Halloween II had (unfortunately) established that Myers was pursuing Haddonfield teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in the first two films because she was his sister and he intended to kill her like he had killed their older sister Judith when he was a 6-year-old back in '63. Curtis wasn't going to come back for Halloween 4, so Laurie is killed off in lines of dialogue that say she died in an accident, along with her husband, at the end of 1987. Rather than use the absence of Curtis to have Myers stalking people at random like he appeared to be doing in part 1, The Return of Michael Myers adds another level to the "he wants to kill his family" idea: Myers awakens from his coma and kills the medical staff driving him to Smith's Grove when one of them mentions that he still has a living relative living in his hometown: Laurie's daughter.

He's back to kill his niece.

As much as I wish the family motivation had never been worked into the series, I can't blame Halloween 4 for continuing something Halloween II had set up, so I don't let that hamper my enjoyment of the film.

Myers was played, for the most part, by stuntman George P. Wilbur in this film, and Wilbur did a commendable job. He's a bit too rigid, but he is following in the footsteps of part 2's Dick Warlock, and Warlock's portrayal of Myers was as rigid as it gets. Wilbur's Myers is stronger than the ones who came before, which tends to happen in slasher franchises: the more damage a killer takes, the stronger they get. This Myers is so strong, the first kill involves him sticking his thumb right into a person's forehead, through the skull.

Wilbur was hired during production, replacing the first stuntman who had been cast as Myers, Tom Morga. Morga's Myers can still be seen here and there throughout the film, and I don't see anything wrong with his moments, but the producers weren't satisfied with him for whatever reason. Myers isn't the only iconic masked killer Morga has played. He put on the mask of Leatherface for a shot in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and played both Jason Voorhees and the copycat killer in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning.

Laurie's daughter is 7-year-old Jamie Lloyd, and 11-year-old child actress Danielle Harris, who has gone on to be a genre regular over the decades since this film, delivered an amazing performance in the role. This is another thing that makes it tough to complain about the niece storyline; Harris is so good as Jamie and makes the character so endearing, I wouldn't want to trade her just to ditch the family element.

Jamie has been adopted by the Carruthers family and has a teenage foster sister, Ellie Cornell as Rachel, who is basically this film's good girl version of Laurie Strode. Cornell is another cast member who does a great job of bringing her character to life, making Rachel an exceptionlly likeable heroine.

Rachel is hoping to spend Halloween night with her boyfriend Brady (Sasha Jenson), but her parents are busy that night and the usual babysitter has a broken ankle, so she's roped into watching Jamie and taking her trick-or-treating. The first film had focused on babysitters, so much that it was conceived under the title The Babysitter Murders, so it's a nice touch that McElroy brought that idea back for this sequel. But also a remake-esque touch.

Also remake as hell is the side plot that sees Myers' psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who also survived the fire at the end of II, making it out with nothing but a burned hand and a scarred cheek, following his patient's trail back to Haddonfield. Loomis does almost everything in 4 that he did in the first; he argues with the head of the sanitarium about their wreckless handling of Myers, he passes through the spot where Myers traded his hospital gown for a mechanic's jumpsuit, he reaches Haddonfield and recruits the assistance of the local sheriff, he reiterates to anyone who will listen that Myers is pure evil.

Myers' acquisition of the jumpsuit is a prime example of Halloween 4 repeating scenarios but reimagining them in a bigger, flashier manner. In Carpenter's film, Loomis simply found Myers' hospital gown hanging on a tow truck parked on the side of the road and didn't even notice the body of tow truck driver laying in the weeds nearby. In this sequel, we see Myers, his burned face wrapped in bandages, kill a mechanic in a body shop attached to a diner / gas station. Loomis then shows up to find the body of the mechanic, as well as a waitress in the diner - and witness Myers escaping the body shop by driving through the body shop doors and speeding off down the road, sparking an explosion on his way out of the lot that makes the gas pumps and Loomis's car go up in flames. We've gone from a body just laying in the weeds to a kill, multiple bodies, and things blowing up.

The destruction of Loomis's car slows the doctor down a bit, but also allows for a fun scene in which he catches a ride with the drunken Reverend Jackson P. Sayer (Carmen Filpi), who claims to be hunting damnation much like Loomis is. Filpi makes quite an impression with just a couple minutes of screen time.

There's something odd going on between Jamie and Myers. Ideally she would have no idea who he is, but the kids at school like to bully her and mock her for the fact that her parents are dead and her uncle is "the boogeyman". Still, it's clear how she would know what her killer uncle looked like wearing his classic mask, but she has nightmares about him, mask and all. (And of course he does score a fresh mask from the local pharmacy; it's strange that those would be sold in Haddonfield.) She also sees visions of him when he shouldn't be there, and when she checks a mirror to see how she would look wearing a clown costume, she sees the image of 6-year-old Myers, wearing the clown costume he was wearing when he killed Judith, staring back at her from the mirror. There seems to be some kind of psychic connection between these characters, something Halloween 5 will go much further with. That would explain why Myers has absolutely no problem finding this niece he has only just heard a quick reference to. This psychic connection is another thing I think I would usually take issue with, but it's not too obtrusive in the film, so it's another thing I can let slide. It doesn't affect my enjoyment of the film.

Before stalking Jamie through the streets of Haddonfield while she's trick-or-treating, Myers takes precautions to make sure his latest stalk and slash spree won't be disrupted. The explosion at the gas station severed the long distance phone lines, so that helps. He knocks out the electricity in the town by tossing a power company employee (Harlow Marks) - a fan favorite character largely because he has his name, Bucky, printed across his hard hat - into an electrical transformer. He even massacres almost every member of the Haddonfield police force in one off screen sequence. The bodies of the officers are found strewn around the police department after the fact.

Myers didn't count on a couple truckloads of redneck beerbellies stepping up to take the police's place, with the encouragement of Loomis, but he doesn't have much to worry about with that bunch. The most they accomplish is accidentally killing an innocent Haddonfielder named Ted Hollister.

One of the two survivors is the sheriff, Ben Meeker (Beau Starr), who earns cool points by being much more accommodating to Loomis than Sheriff Brackett was back in '78, although he has reason to, since Loomis was proven right ten years before. He and Loomis take Jamie and Rachel back to his house, where Brady happens to be, since he's cheating on Rachel with Meeker's daughter Kelly, a tall and busty girl played by Kathleen Kinmont of Hardbodies and Bride of Re-Animator. That love triangle adds some extra drama into the mix and gives us more reason to side with Rachel.

This all builds up to an epic chase sequence littered with murders that goes through the Meeker house, up onto the roof, over to the local grade school, and into a truck speeding through the Illinois countryside. The first movie just had Jamie Lee Curtis getting chased out of a house and across the street! And remember when Loomis shot Myers six times at the end of the original? That's nothing compared to what happens to the slasher at the end of part 4.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is my favorite Halloween aside from the first film, and while I'll always consider the '78 original the best, if I'm being honest... at this point, if I were given a choice of watching either the first or the fourth film, I'd probably more often choose the fourth. It's just a livelier movie, and it's of an era I am deeply nostalgic for, the '80s. The era of the best Halloween decorations ever.

4 is also the one that I feel, a resident of small town middle America, best captures the look and feel of Halloween in small town middle America. This is aided by the fact that it was shot in Salt Lake City, Utah rather than California like the previous three films, but it even looks better than Salt Lake sequels that were to follow. This movie just looks perfect. The cinematography may not be as stylish as Dean Cundey's, but Peter Lyons Collister certainly wasn't slacking.

That perfect Halloween tone is set right up front with the opening titles, which begin with shots of random farmland and Halloween decorations. I love the imagery here, and when paired with some moody music by composer Alan Howarth it becomes one of my all time favorite title sequences.

Like the first Halloween but different enough to stand apart, a great cinematic representation of the titular holiday, thoroughly '80s, and sporting likeable characters the viewer can root for, Halloween 4 is a well crafted and very entertaining sequel. After sitting out the third film, Michael Myers made a triumphant return.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you like it as much as you do. It has some good seasonal flavor and it's certainly better than 5 and 6 - but I don't like it much. On the Leonard Martin scale - Halloween (1978) ****. Halloween II ***. Halloween IV **1/2. Halloween V *1/2. Halloween 6 BOMB. Halloween H2O **1/2. Halloween Resurrection **.