The night he came home! …again.
This review contains spoilers.
How much do you like opening credits? Lately, it seems that opening credits have practically disappeared from movies. I saw Captain Marvel on its first weekend and there were no opening credits. I ended up staying after the movie for the mid-credits scene, so I saw the names of key cast and crew that you’d normally find in those credits. That’s all well and good, but opening credits are more than just names—or they should be more than that. They’re an opportunity to establish mood through the use of music and images. Sometimes, movies get lazy and open with credits over black (e.g. nearly the entire Friday the 13th franchise) or the credits are quietly and quickly inserted into action to speed the movie up (The Possession of Hannah Grace was a recent example of this). Neither is an optimal use of opening credits. But if they aren’t, then what is?
Considering this is a review of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, I think you know where I’m going. Across its four decades of existence, the Halloween franchise has had some fantastic opening credits sequences. The one in Halloween (1978) is incredibly simple, but in its simplicity, became iconic. Halloween II (1981) and Halloween (2018) toy with the jack-o-lantern against a black background composition in imaginative ways. Neither simply copies the original. They illustrate what the movie’s essence is. Halloween II is a deeper look into Michael Myers as a character. It’s the movie where we learn about his relationship to Laurie Strode and know more about the man behind the mask (or the skull behind the jack-o-lantern, if you will). The resurrection of the jack-o-lantern in Halloween ’18 tells the audience that not only is this a revival of the character of Michael Myers, but that he is back to his original, mysterious ways. He is simply the Shape, and the relationship with Laurie established in Halloween II is no more. In 1982, Halloween III: Season of the Witch changed things up. The jack-o-lantern was shown on a TV screen in the credits. If we grant the idea that Michael Myers is represented by the jack-o-lantern, then this is another clever way to communicate to the audience what to expect. Michael Myers is in the movie…but only on television screens. He has no bearing on the actual plot involving Tom Atkins saving the world from an Irish warlock and a catchy jingle. The opening credits for each of the first three movies have revealed how Michael was going to be handled within the filmIt is odd, then, that when looking at Halloween 4 and sequels prior to Halloween ’18, that the pumpkin is not used in such a communicative way. Perhaps it was never the intention of the filmmakers, but given the aforementioned relationship between the jack-o-lantern and Myers, it seems unlikely that no one was giving this some consideration.
If Halloween 4’s credits buck the trend of jack-o-lanterns, then why am I writing three beefy paragraphs about opening credits? Well, because the credits that open Halloween 4 are amazing. They eschew from the established style, and so too does the movie as a whole. Halloween 4 doesn’t look or feel like the first three Halloween films. The change is felt immediately. A shot of a creepy farm with an assortment of pumpkins in front of it opens the film and serves as a backdrop for producer Moustapha Akkad’s credit. It’s a beautiful wide-shot captured at the magic hour. Everything is bathed in the warm light of evening. The autumnal spirit carries forward through the rest of the credits. Each shot of rural landscapes and deserted farms is gorgeous. An abandoned shack with a cheap plastic skeleton on its side as a light fog rolls by. A scarecrow with a jack-o-lantern for a head sitting on a tractor. These images conjure the Halloween spirit without even relying on the classic Halloween theme. A brooding electric drone blankets the credits instead. While some may find it detrimental, I believe it works in the credits’ favor. The Halloween theme is too distinct and upfront. It demands your attention, which is why it works so well when it was employed in Halloween and Halloween II, where the only visual accompaniment is the jack-o-lantern. The rural landscape demands something quieter, something creepier. That’s exactly what Alan Howarth provides here. These credits make up only one minute of the Halloween 4’s 88-minute runtime, but it may be the single-most praiseworthy minute in the movie.
Now that I’ve spent an entire page discussing opening credits, let’s talk about the movie they precede, shall we? Halloween 4 picks up ten years after the events of the first two movies. Michael Myers miraculously survived being incinerated and has been comatose for a decade. The night before Halloween, he is to be transferred to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. On the ambulance ride over, Michael Myers wakes from his coma and escapes custody. Dr. Loomis, who also survived the explosion at the end of Halloween II, knows exactly where Michael is headed: Haddonfield. Michael Myers intends to finish what he started and kill Laurie Strode once and for all—or that’s what would’ve happened if Jamie Lee Curtis had returned to the role. Her character is written out, having died in a car accident between films. Ironic how the only person not killed in the explosion is the only one who is actually dead in this movie. Without Curtis, a new heroine was needed. Enter eleven-year-old Danielle Harris. She plays Jamie Lloyd, daughter of Laurie Strode. Jamie lives with a foster family, but she has a difficult time forming a relationship with Rachel, the teenage daughter of the Carruthers (played by Ellie Cornell). She’d rather spend time with her boyfriend than babysit Jamie. On Halloween, the two of them find themselves on the run from Michael Myers as he resumes the murder spree he started ten years earlier.
One thing that is immediately apparent about Halloween 4 is how much it borrows from Halloween. The plot loosely follows that of the original, with Myers escaping and trying to return to Haddonfield to kill a relative as well as Loomis pursuing him and seeing the aftermath of Myers’ killings and later working with a skeptical police force to capture Myers. It’s familiar territory, which is exactly what producer Moustapha Akkad wanted. After the disappointing box office return on Halloween III, he wanted to go the safe route and bring Michael Myers back in the flesh. Screenwriter Alan B. McElroy developed the story, pitched it, and produced the final draft of the script in eleven days, an incredibly tight window created by a looming writer’s strike. Unfortunately, that time crunch can be felt within the script. The rehashed plot isn’t the problem though. From scene-to-scene, Halloween 4 does feel like its own movie. It goes through similar motions, but throws in a new step every once in a while that hints at what the film could’ve had the script not been rushed. The problem with Halloween 4 is the lack of tension. Jamie wanders off while trick-or-treating and ends up getting lost. This could be a tense sequence, but it abruptly ends when Rachel finds Jamie. Nothing builds to this reunion—it just happens. Something similar happens later on when Jamie is fleeing from Myers. She runs into the one person who can help her, Dr. Loomis. It’s convenient. Characters are where the script needs them to be without the script justifying their paths crossing. It kills any chance of tension in a number of quieter scenes.
Despite its inability to create tension in quieter scenes, the movie is able to generate an occasional flicker of suspense. The rooftop confrontation Jamie and Rachel have with Michael is a particularly effective scene. They struggle to navigate the roof, sliding and falling in their frantic effort to evade the sure-footed Myers. Jamie is able to make it off the roof safely, but Rachel isn’t so lucky. She falls from the roof and is knocked unconscious. The fall ends up having little physical effect on Rachel, which eliminates any consequences of the scene, but the chase is suspenseful nevertheless. Other moments in the movie feature some good stunt work (Myers on the truck of rednecks) and acting (Jamie Lloyd’s nightmare), but Halloween IV is lackluster when it comes to creating gripping sequences. This could be attributed to the direction of Dwight H. Little’s direction, but the script doesn’t provide a whole lot to work with.
McElroy’s script isn’t without its strengths though. The redneck gang going rogue and trying to kill Michael Myers on their own is an idea so good that it could be the main plot of its own Halloween sequel. Here, it’s a half-baked subplot. Their conflict with Sheriff Meeker is weak. Meeker doesn’t want them trying to find Michael Myers themselves, fearing that they may kill innocent people. Sure enough, they accidentally do, but there’s no repercussion for this murder. They just keep on going and it’s never brought up again. Dr. Loomis even sides with the rednecks at one point, telling Meeker they’re the best chance he and the sheriff have at getting Myers since the local police are all dead. The rednecks could be scrapped from the movie altogether because their actions barely factor into the main story, but removing them would also remove the most interesting part of the plot.
Michael Myer’s return to Haddonfield came with a recasting. The job went to stuntman George P. Wilbur. He’s noticeably taller and bulkier than Dick Warlock’s Shape in Halloween II, which begs the question–what on earth were the folks at Ridgemont Federal Sanitarium feeding Michael while he was in his coma? In the beginning, Michael’s face is bandaged. He only obtains his signature mask after reaching Haddonfield. Before then, he looks more like Darkman’s cousin. There’s a great moment where Loomis sees Michael in a diner. Myers looms like a giant in the kitchen and disappears when Loomis tries shooting him. It’s just like the good ol’ days when Michael would vanish from plain sight. When Michael finally gets his mask from a store, it’s no longer a mask of William Shatner. It lacks the menacing dark stare because the eyebrows sit too high on the forehead and the eyeholes are shaped differently. Combined with the slicked-back hair, the mask looks more like Lieutenant Data than Captain Kirk. There’s a brief scene in a school where a different mask can be seen. This one has blonde hair and the skin is a natural peach tone instead of ghostly white. This was the original choice for the mask in the film, but the producers did not like it, and it’s easy to see why. It’s shabby and doesn’t match the look of the original mask at all. If they were going to change it, why not go for something more radical than blonde hair? Have Michael Myers going around in a Silver Shamrock mask, or have him dress up in an ape costume. That’d spruce the movie up. The only justification I can come up with for the blonde mask is that it is more believable that a drug store would sell it. It’s generic-looking and bears only some resemblance to the Shatner mask. It may be in bad taste to sell the mask worn by a serial killer, after all.
Beyond the questionable look, Wilbur’s performance as Michael Myers is decent. He embraces the imposing motionlessness of Myers well, but doesn’t have the same intensity or malevolence of Dick Warlock’s portrayal despite his larger stature. The mask may be to blame though. The rest of the cast does a fine job. The explosion seems to have mellowed Dr. Loomis a bit. He feels more like he did in Halloween than the slightly-unhinged portrayal in the sequel. One of my favorite moments is when he catches a ride with Reverend Sayers. He and Sayers find common ground and after a drink of booze, Sayers begins singing and Loomis smiles. It’s a great little moment of levity for Loomis in what is mostly a serious performance. Danielle Harris does a great job in her first feature role. She is convincingly scared out of her wits when she’s being attacked by Myers. Ellie Cornell’s performance is serviceable, but lacks any great moments. The same can be said for the rest of the cast, the aforementioned Reverend Sayers notwithstanding. Carmen Filpi does a great job walking the line between crazy religious fanatic and likability, and his brief scene is one of the movie’s best moments.
As mentioned at the beginning of the review, this film looks different than the previous Halloween movies. There are a couple reasons for this, one being the change in filming location from South Pasadena to Salt Lake City. The more significant reason, however, is Dean Cundey’s absence from the production. He served as cinematographer on the first three Halloween films. The composition during night scenes combined the use of heavy shadows with depth. Careful attention was given to foreground, middleground, and background when lighting, and the result is some of the best-looking slashing to come out of the late 70’s and 80’s. While Cundey was off earning his first Oscar nomination for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Peter Lyons Collister took over the role of cinematographer. Halloween 4 never looks bad, but it lacks the visual pop that had come to define the series. Outside of b-roll in the opening credits (likely handled by the second unit), it comes off more workmanlike than artistically inspired, which is a point that could be made about the movie as a whole.
Halloween 4 wasn’t what Moustapha Akkad hoped for. The return of Michael Myers didn’t achieve the big box office numbers posted by the first two Halloween films. It only made $3 million more than Halloween III. There are number of reasons for this, the most significant being the declining interest in the slasher genre. By 1988, it was over-saturated with dream killers and camp counselor slayers. From a critical standpoint, Halloween 4 didn’t fare well either. Contemporary response was largely negative, citing the film’s inability to produce scares and its overall derivativeness. Though the film currently sits below 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, recent evaluation has been more favorable and deservedly so. Halloween 4 may struggle to live up to the standard set by the first three Halloween films, but there are some good ideas and enough memorable moments to overcome its recycled plot and lack of tension.
Oh yeah, and it has a fantastic credits sequence too.