Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

(Reviewed in 2002, with revisions in 2017.)

It is a small comfort that after the tedious cinematic enema known as “Halloween 3: Season of the Witch,” Part 4 in the series brings back the original villain. I say it is a small comfort because while Part 4 is better than Part 3, it is still worse than, say, being bitten in the retina by fire ants.

I can picture director Dwight H. Little being jazzed at the chance to direct “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” — the film that would put the franchise back on track. He thinks, “I’ve got to make it really scary! How do I do that? Ooh, look, a butterfly!” And he’s sidetracked, and he winds up making the film without ever stopping to consider how to go about bringing terror into it.

As a result, we have a film that is virtually terror-free, as harmless, bland and ineffective as anything ever produced by Disney’s live-action department.

It begins on Oct. 30, 1988. Michael Myers, who was killed in a fire at the end of Part 2, apparently was not killed in a fire at the end of Part 2 after all, though he was badly injured. He has been virtually comatose since then, and his muscles surely have atrophied due to underuse. So while being transferred to another hospital, he crushes an attendant’s head with his bare hands, kills the other medical personnel, and escapes. (Why was he being transferred? So he could escape, apparently.)

His escape fast reaches the melted ears of Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who also was killed in a fire at the end of Part 2 but who also apparently was not killed in a fire at the end of Part 2 after all, though he was badly injured. His gruesome face is even more gruesome now, what with the burn marks all over it, and he walks with a cane. But he is single-minded in his determination to stop Michael Myers from killing again.

Like a homing pigeon, Michael heads for his hometown of Haddenfield, Ill., where we have already met his niece. She’s a 7-year-old named Jamie (Danielle Harris), and she’s a basket case waiting to happen. Her mother was Laurie Strode, heroine of the first two films, but she and unnamed Dad died 11 months ago. Now Jamie lives with a foster family named Carruthers, led by two ineffective parents and a teen-age daughter named Rachel (Ellie Cornell). It is Rachel who has to baby-sit Jamie most often, though she’d rather be off fornicating with her tool of a boyfriend Brady (Sasha Jenson), who in the meantime is doin’ Rachel’s slutty friend Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont), who is the sheriff’s daughter.

Whew. Life is not easy for Jamie. She’s tormented by Michael-centric nightmares, and her classmates ridicule her for being the niece of a maniac. The movie loses all credibility here, because in real life, having a killer for an uncle would make you coolest kid in school. (The kids also make fun of her for being an orphan, though, which seems reasonable.)

Next thing you know, the movie puts the words “October 31, 1988” on the screen, followed by the helpful clarification, “Halloween,” in case you didn’t know Oct. 31 was Halloween. Michael arrives in town and kills a few folks, notably a power-plant employee named Bucky, whose death causes a power outage. Creepy Dr. Loomis is not far behind his quarry, and he warns the local police that Michael is surely in town. For some reason, they believe him and take assertive action, which made me wonder if I’d somehow put the wrong movie in by mistake. Since when do cops listen to anybody?

Anyway, there’s killing and chasing and running and screaming and a gross sex scene between Brady and Kelly who of course get killed later as punishment for their deeds. When the patrons at a local bar get wind of what’s afoot, they shape themselves into a drunken posse, led by the mysterious Earl, a character who is called by name several times, but whom I could never pick out of the crowd onscreen. A gaggle of portly men in flannel shirts standing around with shotguns all look alike. Anyway, the posse’s primary function is to accidentally kill innocent people, including the ill-fated Ted Hollister. “Well, s***, Earl, it’s Ted Hollister,” someone says ruefully upon discovering whom they shot instead of Michael Myers. But let us not mourn Ted Hollister, for he is in a better place now.

It eventually becomes clear that Michael is hunting Jamie specifically, as he has a curious inclination to kill every relative he can locate. The Myers family reunion is, one suspects, a barrel of laughs. At one point, Dr. Loomis begins protecting little Jamie himself, which I thought would make a remarkable sitcom: “The Half-Burned Old Grump and the Traumatized Little Girl.”

The movie limply continues the story established in the first two films without adding anything new or stylish. None of the deaths is particularly gruesome or clever, and goodness knows there are no surprises in the plot. Until the end, that is, when Jamie touches Michael’s somewhat-dead body and gets evil all over herself and becomes the new Michael, or something like that. All I know is, it makes Dr. Loomis scream like a girl, which is a fitting conclusion to any movie.

D (1 hr., 28 min.; R.)