In Defense Of: “Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers” (1988)

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Despite a pretty definitive ending for The Shape in 1981’s Halloween II, which saw Michael Myers burning to a crisp in its final moments, the iconic killer managed to return by the end of the decade, just in time to ride the final wave of social interest in slasher films. Though Halloween III: Season of the Witch had attempted to move the Halloween franchise away from its reliance on Michael, the chilly reception it received upon its release in 1982 meant that the series as a whole was put on ice, with both John Carpenter and Debra Hill – the two responsible for its existence in the first place – giving up their interest in it in the years that followed, allowing for the cinematic resurrection of Michael in 1988’s aptly-named Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.

Set ten years after the events of the original film, Halloween 4 sees Michael awakening from a coma the night before Halloween upon discovering that Laurie Strode – who, as we learn, was killed in a car crash – has a daughter, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris). Of course, Michael being Michael, he sets out on a bloody rampage back to Haddonfield to kill his niece – currently living with a foster family that includes Rachel (Ellie Cornell) – while he’s pursued by his longtime psychologist Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who also miraculously survived the fiery explosion that closed out Halloween II. As Michael’s brand of evil returns to his hometown, all paths inevitably cross to stop him from murdering his last remaining relative.

Now, as I discussed in my defenses of Halloween II and Halloween III, Halloween is my favorite of the major slasher franchises, and even though I can admit that the world didn’t necessarily need Michael Myers to return to the big screen, I’m glad he did. I won’t pretend that Halloween 4 isn’t a clear attempt to cash in on the series’ popularity, especially as Michael had to sit out most of a decade dominated by killers like Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger, but it’s also a film that’s surprisingly better than it has any right to be, one that balances a fine line between outright absurdity and remarkable, respectable restraint.

Thirty years on from its release, one of the major hurdles that’s really tarnished its own legacy within the franchise has been how all the films that followed in its wake have treated it. The movie ends on a pretty stellar note – one that I’ll discuss in a bit – that opened the door for the series to explore something new by closing the book on Michael once again to allow Jamie to step up only for 1989’s Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers to toss it all away in the interest of keeping Michael around and setting up the Thorn storyline. Six years after that, The Curse of Michael Myers continued on to disastrous results, most egregiously wasting Jamie by killing her off, and by 1998, all of it was scrapped anyway when Halloween H20 brought Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie back to the franchise and ditched the continuity of the fourth through sixth films.

Add in the Rob Zombie-led reboot attempt in 2007 and 2009, as well as this year’s new Halloween, which dropped everything from continuity save the original film, and it’s easy to see how Halloween 4 has been lost in the shuffle, ignored by rebooted timelines and saddled with its own direct sequels that didn’t pay off anything it set up, leaving it hanging in the wind as a throwaway curiosity that deserves – at the least – some credit for what it is: An entertaining, if imperfect, little Halloween entry.

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