Five Favorite Things:: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) By Doc of Camera Viscera

Nothing gets me in the mood for the spooky season like popping in my VHS of Halloween 4 and hearing the VCR hum to life. Even just typing that made me want to light some pumpkin spice candles and crawl under a blanket on the couch. Now, there is no doubt that the original Halloween is one of the greatest horror films ever made and—for obvious reasons—the film most closely associated with the holiday that shares its name. But, for me, it’s Halloween 4 that really sets the mood for all of October.

And since Halloween (the holiday) is on everyone’s mind currently, I thought I’d revisit one of my favorite sequels of the Halloween franchise. Here are my Five Favorite Things about Halloween 4.

Mention Halloween 4 to any fan of the film and the first thing they’ll bring up are the opening credits. And it’s true: they’re great. Just a few shots of a barren field and some weathered halloween decorations under an overcast sky—boom, that’s all that’s needed to set the tone for the entire movie. Simple, but incredibly effective.

But it’s not just the opening credits that create that sort of atmosphere; the whole movies feels like it’s actually October in a small Midwestern town. The streets are perpetually wet and dappled with fallen leaves. A foggy haze hangs low over the backyards at night. Our protagonist, little Jamie Lloyd, buys her Halloween costume from a local drugstore (employed with teens who all know each other). The town watering hole is a total dive filled with hicks with shotguns. It’s just feels so real.

Part of the reason why Halloween 4 got the seasonal look so right was because it was shot in Salt Lake City, Utah at the beginning of April, when it’s incredibly wet and dreary, with temperatures barely rising above 60. (Halloween, on the other hand, was shot in and around Los Angeles in May, when temps are already in the high 70s—if not higher.) Pop Halloween 4 in on an overcast fall day and I’m sure you’ll agree!

When creating a fictional town like Haddonfield, the best way to make it feel real is to fill it with real characters. The original Halloween introduced us to some local teens and the police department. Halloween II did an even better job, inserting other neighborhood residents, news crews, more police, and an entire hospital staff. Halloween 4 raises the bar even higher.

The gruff Dr. Hoffman; the stoic Deputy Logan; the prophetic Rev. Jackson P. Sayer; lame-o Wade; stocky and standoffish Bucky. It’s been said “there are no small parts, only small actors”, and that feels particularly true with Halloween 4. Every character, no matter how brief their screen-time, fleshes out the world of Haddonfield that much more.

Halloween II did a great job of this when Nurse Janet tells Bud and Jimmy an anecdotal story about Michael Myers, in the breakroom of the hospital: “Julie saw him, you know—you know the Shop and Bag out by the mall? She stopped at the light and saw him walking in that field behind the Lost River Drive-In. Julie said he was so creepy.” We never see the drive-in she describes, or the Shop and Bag; we never see or hear anymore about this Julie character. But it builds a world.

Same thing for Halloween 4. At one point, a fired-up group of hillbillies accidentally gun down an innocent local kid (again, mirroring Ben Tramer from Halloween II); “Shit, Earl. It’s Ted Hollister.” says one of the good ol’ boys. Who’s Ted Hollister? Doesn’t matter. It’s just world-building, and it works.

I like when horror sequels are able to find a balance between “paying homage to the original” and “elevating the original idea”. You don’t gotta send your villain to space to keep me interested. Just find that happy cozy medium between the original and somewhere slightly beyond.

During the climax of Halloween, Laurie strode is running around her post-trick-or-treated neighborhood, desperate to find some help and/or shelter from her pursuant killer, Michael Myers. But no matter where she goes, the porch lights are off and the doors are locked.

How does Halloween 4 elevate that? It knocks out the power in the entire town and kills off the entire police force. It’s great! No one is able to call anyone for help—everyone is on their own! In another mirror of the original: Michael was chasing the babysitter in ’78, with the kids as collateral. In the ’88 sequel, he’s chasing the kid with the babysitter as collateral. God, this movie is good.

Much like almost the entirety of Halloween II, Halloween 4 finds the beginning of its third act taking place in a single location. H2 had the hospital and its labyrinthine bowels, H4 has a two-story Victorian that’s been dead-bolted and is inescapable.

“We’re trapped in this house,” explains Brady to the terrified Rachel and Jamie. Again, upping the ante: imagine being unable to escape the house while Michael Myers is locked inside with you! Adding to the scare factor: Michael is able to snuff people out within the darkened house (remember, he knocked out the power in the entire town) without anyone else in the house even noticing at first.

The scene culminates on top of the house, with Michael slashing at both Rachel and Jamie as they slide down—and eventually fall off—the roof. In the original story, the house was supposed to be on fire while all of this was happening, but budget and time constraints nixed that. While a burning rooftop chase would have been an awesome sight, the whole climax as it stands is incredibly exciting.

Michael Myers is genuinely scary in Halloween 4. Dare I say, maybe the last time he was scary? (Though, I will concede, he had his moments in Halloween 6 and Halloween (2018).)

There’s just something very ghostly and ethereal about Michael in H4—it’s like he’s haunting Haddonfield. From the creepy shots of him appearing (and disappearing) in Jamie’s mirror to him being discovered hanging out in the diner kitchen by Dr. Loomis to him loitering in foggy backyards at night, his presence in H4 just feels otherworldly. Halloween 4 employs many of the great things that makes the character so scary, like having his mask just barely visible in certain shots, and including the classic POV shots that the original did so well.

And the mask—the mask gets a lot of criticism from fans, but I always liked it. It has an incredibly blank expression—more so than the original, I think—and it looks kind of sad to me, which actually ups the creep factor. The combo of the forlorn expression while he’s murdering people—chilling!

When I think of the later sequels, Michael just doesn’t seem that scary. Sure, he’s threatening. Sometimes he’s big and bulky; other times he’s excessively violent. But are those things necessarily scary? As scary as a guy who tracks down his 7-year-old niece to murder her, while bearing a face that says “I don’t even know why I’m doing this”? I think not!

Note: Visit Doc at his awesome home joint Camera Viscera HERE!

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2 years ago

I love Rev. Sayer. He’s such an odd, nice little touch.

2 years ago

Agreed on all counts! This has always been one of my favourite Halloween sequels. The atmosphere is just so Halloweeny (and it comes closer than any movie I’ve seen to capturing the Halloweens of my own childhood), and it does just enough to feel like both an homage and a true sequel, without being a mere retread or ripoff.

2 years ago

Oh yeah – probably my second favorite after the original. I remember seeing this in the theater and that first attack in the ambulance totally took everyone by surprise! It set a great mood for the crowd – this was at a notoriously rowdy theater. I went in with low expectations but was so pleased with how it turned out – super fun.

Caffeinated Joe
2 years ago

Awesome. It is a favorite. So moody, so great. Haddonfield, 10 years later. Love it.