8/9/12

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988): "The Shape" of Things To Come

First, he came home on Halloween. Then he continues his carnage late that night at the local hospital. Then he, well, he appeared on a TV in the background of a scene while the world was almost annihilated by druids with masks, and finally, despite being shot twice in the head and blown up during his last real appearance, he comes back again in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. So how did everyone’s favorite Shape come back from having his noggin blown off and being incinerated? He had the ultimate protection, poor box office receipts for the previous un-Myers edition of the franchise. So producer Moustapha Akkad wanted to go back to the well again, and Cannon films approached John Carpenter about penning a sequel, which he did, with Dennis Etchison who had penned novelizations of the series. Their script, detailing a Haddonfield reeling from the killings after banning Halloween, was rejected, and it soon lead to Carpenter, and longtime collaborator Debra Hill, exiting the series. Instead, what came next is a film that would shape the series’ arc for a number of installments and redefine Michael Myers as more supernatural force than man.

Set ten years after the fateful night in Haddonfield, Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur) has been kept in a hospital, under Dr. Loomis’ care. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is scarred by the flames and walks with assistance from a cane, but he was thrown clear of the explosion in a scene which was originally planned to open this film but was later cut. Myers, of course, is merely suffering from the same fate that anyone who got shot directly in both of their eyes would be. When the powers that be at the hospital try to move Michael without Loomis‘ permission, the killer hears the ambulance worker talking about his niece, Jamie (Danielle Harris), the daughter of the now dead in a car accident Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). I can’t recall how she reappeared in H20, but I assume she was thrown clear of the explosion as there is a lot of that going around. Mikey dispatches the gossipy EMS workers, and in this scene we see the first real change in Mike when he simply just jabs his thumb through someone’s forehead to kill them. This either means that this Michael is more supernaturally strong than ever before or the poor fellow really never got enough calcium in his entire life. Anyhow, as you may have guessed, Myers breaks free and goes on a killing rampage, with his mask somehow  firmly in place (did they have that at the hospital?), little Jamie as his homing beacon, and Loomis in hot pursuit.

Thus begins where I always have felt that Myers moves completely from “The Shape” to “Invincible Monster”. In the first two films, despite the fact that he keeps coming way after a normal person would have, I could justify it as the actions of an insane person. He was beyond pain. This time I can’t let crazy justify being able to poke holes in peoples heads or twist them off of their neck using only bare hands. While it may have made for gorier, more graphic kills, realism begins to fall away from this series, and the ultimate conclusion of this downfall comes later in the franchise where rapper-actor Busta Rhymes sidekicks Myers. (See Halloween: Resurrection. I mean not literally. Don’t see it, but that’s where that happens at.) While Freddy was the stuff of dreams and Jason’s roots were always firmly grounded in the supernatural, Myers was just supposed to be a crazy kid who became a crazy adult. Over the course of several more Halloween films, the Cult of Thorne came into play and provided some more otherworldly explanations to Myers doings, but it always just sounded like mumbo jumbo to me on the whole.

This was also one of the final times that Myers was played by a normal size dude (Albeit one that was wearing hockey pads under his coveralls. I wonder what Nolan’s Batman would have to say about that?) George Wilbur, who would repeat the role again in Part 6, does an admirable job as the madman, but really, Myers isn’t about the guy inside, he’s about the mask. Thanks to a friend of mine who is an expert on the various masks, I have a few tidbits to share about the mask which once was merely a Don Post Studio’s Captain Kirk mask. On the poster to Halloween 4, the mask that can be seen is not the one used in the film, in fact there are two which were used for filming, and in one moment it is blatantly obvious there has been a change. The main mask for the film, known as the Crofader to Myers Mask junkies, was a different sculpt entirely from the poster art, and during the scene with Loomis and Jamie at the school, the original mask was used for filming that scene and it can be picked out easily for its lighter than normal hair color. In passing, many of the masks look alike (Is that Mask racism?), but it is interesting to see how they changed from film to film. Lastly, back to my point about George Wilber. Despite the fact he was wearing padding, Myers still looked like a normal sized guy. As the quality of the films begins to decline, there seems to be to be a direct correlation to how big Mikey looks. Case in point, the largest Myers has to be the one from Rob  Zombie’s remake, and it is, in my opinion, worse than any of the sequels in the main franchise.

While teen actress Ellie Cornell takes on the Laurie Strode role for much of the film, the real money is in watching the pre-teen scream queen Danielle Harris in action for the first time in a horror flick. For a child actor, she shows remarkable poise and never takes her character to unreasonable extremes. She would go on to play Jamie in several sequels before appearing as Laurie Strode’s friend Annie in both Halloween remakes. The dénouement of Harris’ character is chilling and a fine bookend to the first Halloween film. In a way if they had left it at that, I could have accepted it, but knowing about her telepathic link to Myers and etc. from the following films kind of dampens my appreciation for the moment. Now, let me talk a little Donald Pleasence. While he would carry on as Loomis for two more films, the veteran actor looks tired throughout the film, but that didn’t at all stop him from providing some classic over the top lines and scenes. My personal favorite line, as simple as it is, comes when the sheriff asks what they are dealing with, and Pleasence simply growls, “Evil.” I mentioned that Ellie Cornell was the central teen in the film, but I got very little out of her performance as Rachel Carruthers. She came off as a stock character, and the blame probably is less on the actress than on the actress she replaced. Cornell might have been serviceable, but she was certainly no Jamie Lee.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is simply where things started to go wrong for the franchise. As new ideas about the character crept in while John Carpenter bowed out, the feeling and tone of the original pair of films is totally lost. Even the many masks of Myers shows continuity was a secondary concern to the film makers. Director Dwight H. Little might have been referred to the job by Debra Hill, but his track record after making Halloween, which includes Free Willy 2, the Tekken film, an Anaconda sequel, and a lot of TV work, seem to prove him to be a director for hire. He has never made a horror film before, and he really hasn’t made once since. He’s made plenty of horrible films though. That might seem harsh, but it also rings true. With the keys to the franchise in the hands of Moustapha Akkad, who was looking to recoup losses from the previous film, and the driver’s seat going to a journeyman director, there’s no wonder that Halloween 4 and beyond become a very scary place indeed, but for all the wrong reasons. While Halloween 4 did indulge this gorehound in a couple of grisly kills, throw about a few jump scares, and keep the pace brisk, at the film’s end, I found myself not wanting to know what happens next, but instead longing for what came before.

Bugg Rating


3 comments:

  1. I quit Halloween after seeing this one. Jumped back on for H20 (which pretty much dismisses all of the sequels except for part II) - and then made the mistake of watching Resurrection.

    The Rob Zombie versions were probably some of the worst crap I've ever seen.

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  2. I have a weird affinity for this particular film. I saw it in the theater and loved the opening credits - I thought it was really atmospheric and heading in the right direction. That being said, the rest of the film wasn't as awe-inspiring as the opening montage. But it's worlds better than all the sequels (save H20) after it. I hate everything after this 4th installment.

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  3. I'm not the biggest fan of the Halloween franchise--give me 1 and 3 and nothing more--but I think this is passable as a late era slasher, even if it's way below the par of a Halloween film. Still, as you say, Harris is incredible and Pleasance gives it his all. As far as H20, as Pax says, it doesn't mention Jamie at all, since it considers 3-5 not canon. I didn't get that the first time I saw it and wondered the entire film why Laurie Strode abandoned her daughter. It was confusing if you grew up with 4 & 5!

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