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The Test of Time: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

DIRECTED BY DWIGHT H. LITTLE

STARRING DANIELLE HARRIS, DONALD PLEASANCE, ELLIE CORNELL, SASHA JENSEN, KATHLEEN KINMONT

Ah, October…without a doubt, the best month of the year for horror fans. 31 days of celebratory scares, sleepy spookiness, creepy kookiness, cheap thrills, deep chills, and deadly decorative frills. Jesus, so balefully blissful is this time of year I’ve broken out into goddamn song!

So let’s steer this thing back a bit. Question. Outside of John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN, what is your favorite HALLOWEEN franchise sequel? For me, it’s easy: HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS! In opinion, if I had to rank all of them, I’d go in the following order: parts 1, 4, 2, 5, 3, 6, 7, 8, then the two insipidly forgettable Rob Zombie remodels. Hopefully, when David Gordon Green’s 40-year sequel drops on October 19th, his version will demand a ranking recalibration. So far, the flick has more critical mass appeal than mass appall, culling a current 8/10 IMDB user rating (on par with our man C.Bum’s sentiment) and 66/100 Metascore. Sounds like more of a Treat than Trick!

As for HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS, believe it or not, the film is about to celebrate its 30th birthday on October 21st. You know what that means? We’re fin to find out, in lead up to the RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS in two weeks, whether or not HALLOWEEN 4 has defied or succumbed to the Test of Time!

THE STORY: After a five year franchise absence, HALLOWEEN 4 came about like so. Canon, the film company that optioned and made TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, went to John Carpenter and Deborah Hill in 1986 with interest in doing the same for the HALLOWEEN franchise. However, Canon did not like the treatment Carpenter and Hill turned in, as it eschewed the slasher-film element of the original in favor of a more ghastly psychological look at Michael Myers' affect on the survivors of Haddonfield. Once Canon rejected the treatment, the rights were assumed by Moustapha Akaad, who wanted to cash in on the current slasher craze of the mid-late 80s. Therefore, a handful of scribes were brought in, with Alan B. McElroy (SPAWN, WRONG TURN 1-5) ultimately responsible for penning the screenplay, which he completed in a mere 11 days, just in time to beat the Writer’s Strike deadline. Director Dwight H. Little (BLOODSTONE, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, MARKED FOR DEATH) was brought onboard, and proceeded to shoot the film over 41 days.

Diegetically speaking, the story picks up 10 years after events of Carpenter’s original concluded. In fact, in the original script, HALLOWEEN 4 was to open with a long tracking shot through the hospital corridors from HALLOWEEN 2 (remember, HALLOWEEN 3 is considered a standalone franchise entry), ending in a fiery explosion that would have sent Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) flying out into the parking lot. Instead, the action picks up in the prison hospital, where a guard reminds us of the abject horror inflicted by Meyers (this time played by George P. Wilbur) on Haddonfield a decade prior. Meanwhile, Myers’ young niece, Jamie (Danielle Harris in her film debut) is having troubling visions of Myers’ stalking her in her bedroom. Is Jamie going crazy? Is she having clairvoyant premonitions? Is she genetically linked to Myers’ murderous mores?

Looking after Jamie (whose name was Britney in the original script and changed to honor Jamie Lee Curtis) is her foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell), who has her own romantic problems with Brady (Sasha Jensen) and rival hottie Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont), the daughter of Sheriff Meeker (Beau Starr). As Myers finds his way back to Haddonfield to wreak horrifying Halloween havoc after escaping a crashed ambulance, which was originally a prison bus in the original script. Note how Gordon Green’s new version uses the crashed prison-bus escape instead. Dr. Loomis tracks the visage of “pure evil” down with intent to kill. For good! Of course, Myers exacts a death-march through Haddonfield en route to stalking seven-year-old Jamie and turning her nightmares into a hellish Halloween-time reality.

WHAT HOLDS-UP: You know where I stand. I can’t go to bat for HALLOWEEN 4 as my second favorite flick in the franchise, and then say little about it holds up. No, much of THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS is just as gratifying now as it was when I first saw it 25 year or so ago. What stands out, while sturdily standing up, however? First, the bold and brazen decision to have Myers stalk a child – the first time in the franchise to do so, mind you – is really quite inspired. And not just any child, which would be f*cked up enough, but a seven year old little girl who happens to be Michael’s niece. Shite’s intense. The other aspects of HALLOWEEN 4 that really hold serve today include Harris’ precocious performance, the refreshingly off-brand fatalities Meyers boasts, and the daringly evil ending! Let’s carve this pumpkin!

It is one thing to have Myers stalk-and-slash a passel of obnoxious teenagers, a la the original and the damn near lot of competing slasher joints, but it’s another thing entirely to endanger a child in a horror movie. It’s one the last great horror taboos, the one no-no you aren’t supposed to indulge in (outside of actually killing a kid onscreen). So to have Michael torment and terrorize young Jamie, the stakes are instantly raised. The potential crime of killing a youngster is instantly made that much more reprehensible. The innocence, the naivety, the sheer vulnerability of one who cannot care for itself or summon the physical strength to rightly protect their own body is a downright terrifying prospect in any manner. The fact that Jamie happens to be related to Michael (as Laurie’s orphaned daughter and Michael’s niece) makes the whole thinig scarier, and only subverts this dynamic even further by making Jamie strong and capable. It is one thing to have the evil inclemency of slaughtering a kid, but to murder a wee adolescent relative makes the monstrous MO of Myers all the more macabre. That she can aptly retaliate is even gnarlier!

Of course, none of this would register as emotionally as it does without the extraordinary performance by first-timer Danielle Harris. She absolutely nails the role of young Jamie, never emoting with a false note or phony line-reading. The precocious authenticity of her onscreen persona is so convincing, so sympathetic and so downright believable that it’s all but impossible not to root for her and want to ensure she makes it through safely. Whether it’s feeling guilty for making Rachel babysit her, or struggling to make friends at school, or simply contending with varying visions of Michael attacking her (the opening sequence and the use of lightning to expose glimpses of Myers is masterful) – we wholeheartedly side with Jamie until the bitter end. With a lesser performance by a less likable actress, chances are HALLOWEEN 4 would greatly suffer.

Another brilliant asset of the film that has appreciated over time – which directly relates to the above – is how Little and McElroy totally upend this deep sense of sympathy and flip it on its demented ear. In a circular orbit that calls back to the original, as fueled throughout the movie via Jamie’s horrific hallucinations, Jamie not only dons the very clown costume that Michael wore ten years earlier while slaying his family, but also psychologically snaps to the point of butchering her foster mother, Darlene Carruthers (Karen Alston). The movie ends with the sinister suggestion that Jamie, perhaps hereditarily, has assumed Michael’s malevolent mischief.

Speaking of, it is Halloween-time, so we’d be remiss not to dish and dice up some of Michael’s homicidal handy-work in the film. And not just gratuitously either. Because HALLOWEEN 4 features so many fatalities that generally oppose Meyers’ typical butcher-blade brandishing, the deaths in the flick actually still prove to be one of the movie’s stronger points. For instance, before Michael picks up the butcher knife from the kitchen around the midway point, he first kills an unsuspecting medic by brutally gouging his thumb in the dude’s forehead until a third-eye is gorily carved. Next up, Michael tosses a power-plant worker headlong on a sizzling electrical grid, electrocuting the sucker to death until he erupts in a fountain of sparks.

After making his way to a service-station, where he slips into the comfy blue-coveralls, ol' Mikey impales another bystander with a large metal pipe of some sort. In yet another callback to the OG, Michael then proceeds to savagely impale Kelly through the wall, not using a knife, but rather a double-barrel shotgun. Shite’s insane! But then, it what is clearly his favorite cause of death, Michael goes back to gorily face-ripping and flesh-gouging two more suspects. First is Brady who gets his pretty little face gruesomely punctured before being fatally strangled. More of the same for a local truck driver a bit later, one of the drunk lynch-mobsters out to avenge Michael’s reign of terror. This poor bastard gets his cheeks vilely vitiated in Lucio Fulci fashion! Straight up, the innovative kills Myers showcases in HALLOWEEN 4 felt fresh at the time, and for the most part, still do!

WHAT BLOWS NOW: As is the case with most 1988 slasher flicks, the MPAA excisions certainly put a damper on what could have been a much grislier endeavor. That is, most of Myer’s murders are of the castrated cutaway variety. More a sign of the times than an indictment of the filmmaking choices, it’s hard for any horror movie to endure the lack of graphic violence. Then again, because of the refreshing fatalities, because of the imminent danger of a little girl, and the concomitant performance of said little girl, the tame killings are in many ways excusable.

What’s far less excusable is the silly ass masks Myers rocks throughout the flick (even the poster below uses the original mask instead). A Shatner mask? F*cker looks like Clay Aiken saw the ghost of Shatner instead! Christ, what were Little and Akaad thinking? Opting for a new facial design of The Shape, producers chose a mask that is not only far less scarier than the Bill Shatner mask from Carpenter’s original, it’s a mask that is downright silly, cartoonish, and extremely nonthreatening. It almost, ALMOST, renders the whole film as a laughable parody of the original. In fact, have any of you spotted the insert shot about 113-114 minutes into the flick, during the schoolhouse sequence, in which a quick glimpse of Michael Myers rocking a blonde Zack Morris wig? WTF is that? Apparently this was the original design of the mask/hair to be seen in HALLOWEEN 4, but producers wisely changed the hair back to the original brown to remain consistent with the original. Wise f*cking move!

THE VERDICT: Having just seen it again, I can confidently reiterate that nothing in the past 30 years has changed my opinion that HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS is the best franchise entry since the original. The flick has the giant balls to have Michael go after a young girl, a phenomenal first performance by Danielle Harris to make that young girl so sympathetic and likeable, it has an even bolder conclusion which subverts the very feelings culled for its young Final Girl, and through it all, gives us a spate of assorted Myers murders that we hadn’t seen much of before. Here’s hoping David Gordon Green’s version boasts similar successes, so that in 30 years, his film will fare just as well against The Test of Time!

STREAM HALLOWEEN 4 HERE

GET HALLOWEEN 4 ON DVD HERE

GET HALLOWEEN 4 ON BLU-RAY HERE

Source: AITH

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