The Halloween film franchise had a wildly successful opening, and a solid sequel that continued the story of Michael Myers stalking Laurie Strode. The third film, however, attempted to shift the series into being an anthology series, with a completely unrelated story. It was less than successful, partly because horror fans wanted more of Michael Myers and partly because it just wasn’t very good. So with the fourth film, the producers decided that if a character-based franchise was desired, that’s what would be delivered. They even made their intentions clear with the title, labeling it Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.
Though Tony Moran would be replaced with stuntman George P. Wilbur as the homicidal maniac, the character wasn’t all that was returning. He was once again being hunted by Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis, the psychiatrist who knew better than any other just how evil Myers was. And once again it was Halloween night, and once again Haddonfield, Illinois would be turned into a scene of horror.
“‘Cause he’s back… he’s the man behind the mask… and he’s after your soul…” Wait. That song goes to a different franchise.
Not returning is previous star Jamie Lee Curtis. We are told that in the ten years since Myers’ original attack, Laurie Strode got married, had a child, and died the year before the film’s Halloween; the cause of death is never revealed, but both her and her husband were killed, and not by Michael Myers. Her daughter, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) is the new target of Myers’ vendetta. Watching over Jamie is her foster-sister Rachel Carruthers, played by Ellie Cornell. Cornell and Harris work well together, being very believable as two “sort of” sisters who aren’t related by blood. Rachel clearly cares about her adoptive little sister, but at the same time is exasperated by her and by the way her parents make Jamie her responsibility. Cornell also captures a lot of the feel of Jamie Lee Curtis’s portrayal of Laurie Strode in that she’s playing an intelligent character who — even if she’s out of her depth — is quick-thinking and determined not to fail. Danielle Harris is, of course, very young in this film but while some child actors are unconvincing, that doesn’t apply here. Whether it’s trying to talk her foster sister into taking her to Dairy Queen or screaming at night terrors or at real ones, Harris never seems like a child playing a character, she seems like the character herself.
Naturally, Donald Pleasence is still the biggest star of the film. Badly scarred and injured from his previous encounter with Michael Myers, he is nevertheless still determined that he is the one who is best prepared to stop Myers once again. While he brings in the local sheriff and state police, he is still the hunter and not a mere informant. Dr. Loomis is more visibly disturbed himself at this point; while definitely still sane, there’s a sense of Captain Ahab about him. He doesn’t truly believe anybody but he can stop the killer, nor that the killer will stop for anything less than lethal force. He doesn’t even refer to Myers as a human being, but rather as evil incarnate. Pleasence’s performance again does a lot for the film’s feeling of suspense; because we can see how terrified Dr. Loomis is of Myers, it provides a chill down the spine.
Also aiding in this is that the film returns to the techniques of the original. Myers is not shown directly on camera very often. There are just hints and glimpses, and even some of those aren’t real; thanks to constantly being reminded by bullies of her murderous uncle, Jamie frequently has nightmares of him. This element isn’t overplayed, but is used just enough to add some early suspense before the killing begins. And when the killing does begin, it doesn’t rely on gore, and it’s mostly back to the straightforward quick and efficient kills instead of elaborate death traps… though there are a few scenes were Myers is clearly doing some advance planning.
Once again, it’s a lot of technical know-how for a guy who never went to grade school.
The film’s one major flaw is that it feels like it’s trying a little too hard to be just like the original Halloween. Swap babysitter Laurie for foster-sister Rachel, and make one of the kids the intended target, and Halloween and Halloween 4 play out very similarly. Still, one supposes there’s a limit on how far a horror franchise can deviate its entries while still remaining a franchise, and no doubt the producers were feeling gun-shy after the reception Season of the Witch had. And importantly, while Halloween 4 doesn’t displace the original, it still works as its own film and as a continuation of the story. It’s good suspenseful storytelling of the sort that launched the franchise to begin with.