Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) Review – The Soft Reboot

For one reason or another, be it because of Halloween 3’s smaller box office earnings or a negative reception, the studio decided to throw it’s horror anthology idea out the window and continue making movies where Michael Myers kills people. You can tell that this decision was probably very difficult for them as Halloween 3 came out just a year after Halloween 2, implying they once had a great amount of faith in the franchise. By comparison, Halloween 4 was released in 1988, which was five years after Halloween 3. Were there worries surrounding this film? If there weren’t then there should have been.

Because the truth is that Halloween 4 is just a worse version of Halloween 2. Michael is revealed to have survived an impossibly lethal scenario and goes on the hunt for a relative – this time his niece, Jamie – in the town of Haddonfield on Halloween night. Doctor Loomis turns up and starts saying vague things about how evil Michael is and joins the Sherriff on a tour of town until Michael attacks. The film ends with Michael (for the second time in the franchises history) being officially and irreversibly killed as a massive group of men shoot him down a big hole in the ground, through which debris falls and buries him. Or does it? The real end to the film is the realisation that upon Michael’s death, his evil was at one point transferred into Jamie, who kills her mother in a sequence mirroring the intro to the original 1978 film, as Doctor Loomis maddeningly screams “no!”

The problem with Halloween 4 is that it has no character. It feels like a generic slasher 99% of the time in terms of how the horror is executed. This is a shame because I felt like the new protagonists, Jamie and her foster sister Rachel, were two good new additions who had a well defined (if a little underdeveloped) relationship. But the meat of the problem is that the film isn’t scary. Michael isn’t scary. Hell, he isn’t even tense. His mask looks real goofy in this one, too bright in my opinion, which results in his iconic outfit looking dumb while his first appearance in the film, wherein he is wrapped in bandages due to the injuries he sustained in Halloween 2, was much more effective. Unfortunately we don’t see him in those bandages for long because, well, he HAS to wear the mask or it’s not a Halloween film, I guess.

The film also places a lot of emphasis on Jamie being the daughter of Laurie Strode, which should be obvious by the fact Michael is said to be her uncle a multitude of times throughout the film. I do think mentioning Laurie at all is to this film’s detriment since the only explanation we get regarding her absence is that she has been presumed dead or missing for the past eleven months. It makes Jamie’s relation to Michael feel forced – why would Laurie, the most innocent of all Michael’s original teenage victims, suddenly abandon her daughter in the town she suffered unimaginable trauma? Honestly, Laurie’s only mentioned at all because this is a soft reboot that wants to have a similar premise to its predecessors, but establish new characters. And since at least one person in this film needs to have blood relation to Michael, thanks to the controversial twist of Halloween 2, of course Laurie needs to be mentioned in order to explain this.

Although I find the two leads to be good additions to the film, the same cannot be said for the returning Doctor Loomis. As always Donald Pleasance puts on a good show and levels this somewhat bizarre character, but he doesn’t really do anything for the entire movie. He shows up to learn Michael escaped captivity, gets ambushed at a gas station, is made fun of by kids, abandons the fortified house the characters use to defend against Michael and then get disposed of without a second thought the moment he actually steps in to defend Jamie. He doesn’t show up again until the end of the film where we see Jamie become the new Michael.

Speaking of which, say what you want about any of the Halloween films up until this point, but they all finish on high notes even if they weren’t necessarily worth the effort to get to. Throughout the film I thought it was a nice touch having Jamie’s Halloween costume be the same as the one Michael wore when he killed his sister in the first movie, but I never expected them to bring it full circle and have the finale mirror that movie’s opening. It’s a great parallel that not only (albeit for the second time) ‘officially‘ cemented Michael’s death, but also provided horrifying consequences for having done that. Doctor Loomis tries to shoot Jamie but is tackled by the Sherriff who doesn’t understand what he, or us viewers, are screaming about.

Alas, as I implied before, great as the ending is, it really isn’t worth sitting through what is the most generic Halloween film I’ve reviewed so far that is pathetically unterrifying. To give the film an ounce of credit, there was one scene in the film where Rachel lowers Jamie from a rooftop via a wire, while also having to defend against Michael, that did tense me up a little. However, it’s surprising that a complex scene like that fails to give me the same chills as the original, which mostly kept Michael in the back of every other frame for the majority of the first and second acts.

And I think therein lies the fundamental misunderstanding that the filmmakers had about the franchise. It seems to me that director Dwight Little and his writers didn’t understand it was the subtlety and often lack of action of behalf of Michael that made him so scary, because in this film he’s just as predictable as any other horror villain with little special about him other than his costume. In fact he feels like more of an action hero in this movie as he explodes gas stations, impales people with shotguns and rides on the top of speeding vehicles.

I mean if they wanted to go down this route of having much more obvious visual excitement, they could have at least doubled down on the injuries Michael and Loomis sustained in Halloween 2. Give Michael charred black hands so he really does look like the devil, and as though what is under that mask isn’t human, as Loomis continues to remind us. And instead of giving Loomis a limp and tiny scar on his face, make him look like a true battle scarred warrior who did war against evil and came out on top. Maybe they could have further exaggerated how eccentric the character is to show the mental toll he took after surviving the deadly fire he was thought to have been killed in. Hell, why not have his entire face be burned and have him wear a mask to hide the injuries, to imply that he and Michael aren’t so different anymore.

But this movie isn’t interested in any of that. It’s interested in Michael showing up out of nowhere while a really sharp violin cue plays, and then having him kill someone. And sure, that’s all well and good for your run-of-the-mill horror film, but Halloween was never so generic. At least not until now. For that reason, I cannot recommend Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.

At the end of every Halloween review I’ll be ranking the movies I’ve seen so far from best to worst. Find the updated ranking list below:

  1. Halloween (1978)
  2. Halloween 2 (1981)
  3. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1983)
  4. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

I swear it is just a coincidence that these movies are getting worse as they go along, in the exact order of their release date.

2 thoughts on “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) Review – The Soft Reboot

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    1. The original series’s downward trajectory has really surprised me as I’m watching many of these movies for the first time since I was a kid. I have fond memories of H20 specifically and am looking forward to getting around to it.

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