Saturday, October 12, 2013

Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers (1988)

Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers
Director: Dwight Little
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Beau Starr, Sasha Jenson, Kathleen Kinmont
Rated: R

We're not talking about any ordinary prisoner, Hoffman! We are talking about evil on two legs.
                                ~Dr. Loomis

The title wasn't just literal for the film, it was an announcement to those scared off by Halloween III.  This is the sequel you wanted.  Tom Atkins would not be returning.  The only mask of importance would be that of the pale faced Shatner.  And here it is, in time for the 10th anniversary of the original.  The film plays as a loving tribute to Carpenter's classic while also carving its way as something of its own being.  To make ties stronger with the first two, Donald Pleasence was also back to reprise his role of Michael's Van Helsing, Dr. Loomis.  Halloween 4 would also return the series to its roots of being a full fledged independent film.

While there is a drastic separation from the look of the first 3 to this one, its not a piece of amateur cinema at all.  The look of the film is that of safer, standard fare.  However, it does surprise in places with throwing a Michael in the background here and there.  But what Dwight Little manages to do is bring a nice sense of intensity and suspense to his chase sequences.  The rooftop sequence during the escape from the house becomes one of the biggest highlights on the entire series.
Little's biggest credit may be getting an incredibly great child performance from Danielle Harris.  Part of what makes Halloween 4 such an enjoyable experience is how much you care for little Jamie.  For my generation, this movie's level of scary had a lot to do with Harris being right in our age range.  Like Tommy Jarvis did for Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Jamie does it maybe even better for Halloween 4.  For some reason, it helps for us guys that she's a girl and one that we latch to as well and don't want to see anything bad come upon her.  Helping matters too is Ellie Cornell's turn as Rachel.  Rachel may be a bit whiny at first, but her dedication and commitment, including sacrifice, gets us clearly on her side.  The relationship between Rachel and Jamie fuels all the chases and builds the suspense as they try to survive the night.
Jamie isn't the only relationship Rachel is involved in either.  There's a nifty little love triangle thrown in the middle of this slasher with her, Brady and Kelly Meeker.  Sorry, Michael, you're not the only one creating tension while everyone is holed up in the Meeker house.  The fact that we have this shows a surprising dedication to character and having some depth in the 4th installment of a horror franchise.  Plus, Kelly Meeker gives us that first devious sultry girl in the Halloween franchise.  Its also notable that she might be the first kill in the entire franchise that might have the audience applauding.
Dr. Loomis returns and begins entering the world of camp, continuing to deliver some of the best and most quotable lines in horror.  Somehow, someway he and Michael survived the explosion in Halloween II.  Yeah, I know, improbable, but you have to just give the movie/franchise this so it can move on.  I'll admit, when I was a kid, I really didn't think too much of it.  Loomis delivers some wonderful one-liners and is even given an arch rival in Dr. Hoffman at the beginning.  One thing I like about this film is that when Loomis gets to town and goes to the police, they don't mess around.  They rustle up, get on the case and impose a town curfew.  Most of the time in these things the police are always in denial until its too damn late.  Sheriff Meeker, you rock dude.
One thing I'd love to point out is how at home Haddonfield manages to be even more in Halloween 4.  I grew up in this time and watching this movie it just felt like places I knew (even though it was shot in Utah).  This one also gets the look and atmosphere of fall down quite well.  A lot of the dialogue regarding geography continues in this film and its to the town's detriment.  You almost feel like you know Haddonfield like its a real place from these movies.  Places, people, events and the like get mentioned in a casual believable fashion that just has you thinking in your head "Oh yeah, Russellville".  The houses, the shops, the center of town, the school, it all brings a comforting sense of familiarity.  And this is all part of the plan to demonstrate the horror as if it were happening to you in your hometown.
I love that people credit Rob Zombie for introducing rednecks/hillbillys into the Halloween universe.  Sorry, but Halloween 4 beat you by almost 20 years.  The film features a bunch of redneck drunks with guns who get wind of Michael Myers and take to the streets on their own to take care of the problem.  Their antics even cause the death of an innocent townsman.  Loomis however, does take advantage of them and gets the Sheriff to condone their actions.  They do end up falling victim to Michael who was riding on the bottom of their truck (yeah, this film is a bit extreme, but its fun so you're going with it).
The mask for this film is a topic of some discussions in this film.  First, why the hell is Haddonfield, IL selling replica paraphernalia of man that murdered 12 of their own 10 years prior?  I guess we just had to get Michael that mask lol.  Many people diss on the look of the mask, but I think its just fine.  They tried using the original mask, but it had deteriorated too much and wasn't working in front of camera.  Remember those scenes where Michael had bright blond hair in the school?  Yep, that's the original mask that they filmed with for a day and tossed. Unfortunately, nobody thought to go back and reshoot those scenes!  This new mask really isn't a problem for me.  What I think people are failing to notice isn't the mask, what makes it look a little weird is George Wilbur's slightly awkward body frame.
One noticeable difference in this film, is the upgrade in terms of the violence regarding the kills.  Michael is much more brutal this time around than before.  Its the tone and feel of a Halloween movie, featuring kills inspired by Jason Voorhees.  Michael had been the trend setter earlier on.  Jason had been the one knocking him off.  Now, the tables had turned and Michael was the one now aping.  This was at the request of Moustapha Akkad, who no doubt was keeping track of the box office totals of the Friday the 13th series.  It has been said he was on set during the kills scenes saying things loudly like "Like Jason!  Do it just like Jason!"

Halloween 4 packs an punch with it's conclusion.  Say what you will, have your opinions on the rest of it, the closing of this movie is one of the best hook endings in horror's history.  The image of Jamie standing there in the clown costume holding the bloody scissors is incredible.  Also watching Loomis lose his mind adds to how much terror comes with this event.  This is an ending that could work to put a cap to the series can call it a cliffhanger and they did.  With it being a cliffhanger, there was so much promise with this that would never be explored.  And that's a real shame.

Bringing Michael back proved to be a big success.  Halloween 4 topped the box office for two straight weekends and was a big hit.  And it was amongst a huge year for horror as well.  1988 is stocked full of big name horror titles.  Not necessarily quality, but some incredibly well known brand name recognition.  Seriously, take a look.  Moustapha got lucky and struck gold removed from John Carpenter and Debra Hill.  A sequel of course seemed inevitable.  But, Moustapha decided to hedge his bets and rush a fifth entry into production before Halloween 4 had even finished its theatrical run.
I have always enjoyed Halloween 4 a lot.  It might be a little bit 80s, now, but that's not a biggie to me.  Its a first rate slasher from the late 80s and even holds better than most of the golden age.  I was on the edge of my seat watching Danielle Harris escape from her serial killing uncle.  The film holds as a wonderful 10th anniversary celebration of the original as well.  I've owned every version that they've ever released for this movie as I like it a lot.  Like the original, this one has been through plenty of versions.  I even have a oversized tin of it that is pretty awesome.  If I don't get to go through every Halloween movie each year, I at least try and make sure 4 gets watched.

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