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Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Don't feel obligated

John Carpenter & Debra Hill originally intended for Halloween IV to be a ghost story, continuing the anthology format. But after the lackluster response to Halloween III, the studio demanded the return of the Michael Myers character. Carpenter & Hill commissioned a script, but ended up selling their interests in the property to executive producer Moustapha Akkad, giving the studio full control of the franchise. The resulting films--The Return of Michael Myers, the Revenge of Michael Myers & the Curse of Michael Myers--attempt to continue the Michael Myers saga from Halloween II.

Halloween 4 picks up 10 years after the night that Michael terrorized Haddonfield. Laurie Strode has since passed away in a car accident, survived by her daughter, Jamie Lloyd, who remains in Haddonfield with a foster family, the Carruthers. And Michael has again escaped the penitentiary & is headed back to Haddonfield to try once again to end his bloodline.

In many ways, Halloween 4 attempts to recreate Halloween 1, introducing new characters but retaining familiar archetypes: Jamie for Tommy Doyle, Jamie's foster sister Rachel for Laurie Strode, & Lindsey Wallace, now ten years older, for Annie Brackett. And many of the early parts of the film do a great job of recreating the tone of the original once you get past the fact that the movie fails to explain why Michael & Dr. Loomis didn't die in the hospital explosion of Halloween II. The melodrama is believable, & the pep talk that Rachel & Lindsey give Jamie after they pick her up from school is very endearing. And Rachel is perhaps the most likable character in the whole series behind Laurie Strode. But despite starting out strong it doesn't take long for the film to begin to buckle under its own weight.

One glaring issue is Rachel's relationship with her boyfriend, Brady. A major subplot revolves around whether or not she'll cancel their Halloween date in order to babysit Jamie. Which would be fine, except that it plays out along the Final Girl rules, which state that only chaste girls survive. John Carpenter rejects these rules being attributed to the original Halloween, stating that even though nearly everyone killed in the film died after having or in pursuit of sex, this was simply a matter of distraction. Laurie survives Halloween not because she’s chaste, but because she’s alert. But Rachel survives Halloween 4 because she's chaste--despite being distracted by Brady's decision to go out with his co-worker Kelly instead. It's made quite clear when Kelly tells Rachel she needs to "wise up to what men want" or else "Brady won’t be the last man [she loses] to another woman." The irony of this statement relies on the audience's awareness of the Rules, even if only subconsciously. Which is problematic in two ways... 1) the outcome of the film is determined early on when Rachel decides whether she'll go out with Brady or babysit Jamie, & 2) Kelly is created as a character who deserves to die.

The Rules reflect a very repressed society under the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Nancy Reagan was preaching at kids to "Just Say No" to drugs & President Reagan himself was suggesting that sexual abstinence was the solution to the AIDS crisis. So horror movies of the time tried to service both the individual's desire to objectify these characters but also the institution's desire to punish them. This led to characters existing in order to be made examples of, as Brady & Kelly are when they meet their doom, which runs counter to the empathetic spirit of the original Halloween film. Laurie's romantic interest in Ben Tramer isn't brought up in the original film as a determinant plot device. Instead it's brought up in order to build Laurie's character as a bookworm. But Brady & Kelly provide little more to Halloween 4 than to move the plot forward.

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The same can be said for Jamie Lloyd's character. Despite Danielle Harris providing a very compelling performance, we never learn anything about Jamie that doesn't simply advance the plot. For instance, Tommy is picked on at school in the original Halloween, but it's substantiated when he's excited to hang out with his babysitter, excited to show off his comic book collection, & pumped to watch sci-fi movies. He's a nerd, & nerds get picked on. But the kids are cruel to Jamie on the basis of murders committed 10 years prior by an uncle she's never met. And yet she also has dreams about Michael & inexplicably recognizes him at the drug store, having never seen him. This connection could've been substantiated with any reference to Jamie's interest in her only living relative. A scrapbook of newspaper clippings, a question at the breakfast table... anything! That would invite the bullying & explain the dreams. Instead, director Dwight Little vaguely insinuates that it's a psychic connection. And it's these underdeveloped supernatural concepts that would really derail the franchise later in the Thorn trilogy.

Perhaps it's best to say that there's just too much packed into Halloween 4 for it to really work. Dwight Little trades action for suspense, offering up gas station explosions instead of tension building scenes. And he spends valuable screen time on townspeople side quests instead of developing the core characters. The final action sequence--which takes place in the back of a speeding truck--borders on parody. But even despite all of it's failings, Jamie & Rachel are very likable characters & the very end where Jamie murders her foster mom could've been one of the best moments of the franchise if they'd have just put more effort into substantiating Jamie's relationship to Michael. So even despite the film's shortcomings, there's enough here that you're left wanting the franchise to do right by the characters in Halloween 5.

Spoiler alert: It won't.

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