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Friday, October 16, 2009

Halloween Hoardefest: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

October, 1988, when Halloween films were still released during the appropriate season instead of at the end of summer... Apparently the Saw franchise bought Halloween dibs from under the Akkad family's noses. I had just graduated high school, then in my freshman year of college. It was ten years following the release of John Carpenter's horror masterpiece which got the entire Michael Myers ethos rolling. Man, to think Carpenter's film is 31 years old now, much less the fourth installment hitting 21!

In 1988 one of the big to-dos in the horror business was reports of Michael Myers resurfacing to the big screen after taking a seven year powder and skipping an in-between sequel belonging to an Irish mask maker bent on destroying children as homage to the Druids. Happy were many of us terror addicts back then. Of course, it's hard to appreciate what a big deal Michael Myers coming back was in '88, considering there's been seven more Myers specials since with Halloween 3-D on its way... 21 years ago the character of Michael Myers wasn't yet thought of as saturated. At least not until the final credits rolled on Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.

I'd gone to see Halloween 4 with one of my long-running buds of the day. We'd survived middle and high school, teen dance clubs, multiple car breakdowns and countless horror flicks together. Already set free of our 12-year undergraduate shackles, we already looked and felt older than most of the crowd sitting in the theater. Good times, since we were the big hotshots nobody dicked with, even as our sudden juniors tormented one another before and throughout the film as we ourselves had done at the appropriate time in our lives. My buddy couldn't yet hang up his varsity jacket, however, nor could I hang up the parting of ways with my onetime deadly-serious girlfriend. I'd forced her into a fair chunk of the eighties horror flicks and in a way my balls were missing the abuse they'd taken during A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors when she'd jumped out of her seat and shredded my nads with her sprung reflexes. Tom Cruise and Matthew Broderick were more her speed; I had it coming, obviously...

Halloween 4 is not that bad, actually. Director Dwight H. Little begins Michael's re-emergence with an effective opening segue of autumn gloom and dusted Halloween decorations amidst the Illinois farmlands before shifting into his story. A nice, creepy preface. We learn both Michael (this time handled by George P. Wilbur, who also returned briefly in the sixth movie) and Dr. Samuel Loomis (the enigmatic yet obviously worn-down at this point Donald Pleasance) have actually survived the detonation which was supposed to have crisped them to cinders in Carpenter's Halloween II.

An ill-fated transport of a comatose Michael to the federal asylum he originally sprung out of, Spring Grove, resuscitates him back into action, particularly after hearing the medics discuss facts about his unknown niece. In this film, Jamie Lee Curtis is acknowledged via photographs as she and her storyline husband have been killed in a car accident, thus tracing Michael's bloodline now to Danielle Harris, playing the sweet and vulnerable Jamie. No coincidences there, right? The character was reportedly first named "Britti," for what it's worth.

Little keeps the pace moving pretty good as Loomis manifests on the scene yet again upon learning of Michael's transfer, which of course results in the latter's bloody escape. The scene of the capsized ambulance with the steel bridge in the background is very ethereal and well-chosen by Little.

Back to Haddonfield we go for another round...

Poor Jamie is tormented by her classmates who are fully aware Michael Myers, aka "The Boogeyman" is her uncle. On top of it, she's persecuted by dreams of Michael, wearing his mask, no less--where does her frame of reference come for those chilly and admittedly effective scare scenes in the beginning of the film? She's a foster child in the Carruthers' family home where the eldest teenage daughter Rachel (Ellie Cornell) is in a hormonal state of agitation trying to pin down the hot stud in her school, Brady. Forced to babysit Jamie on Halloween night, Rachel loses Brady to the sheriff's buxom daughter while also losing Jamie on the streets with a prowling Michael Myers who is set on carving up his little niece on Halloween night. Uncle Mikey, you heartless bastard...

Suffice it to say, Michael tallies another lion's share of victims including most of Haddonfield's police force (done off-camera with an affixed later scene showing the chewy remains of one officer) and the catapaulted execution of a power engineer (the only one on duty, derrr) into the electric works. Meanwhile, Michael has a posse of bar rednecks on his tail who object to the town order of closing down early because of the state of emergency. They do more harm than good, naturally. A group of idiots surrounds Loomis and the new sheriff (Beau Starr) while wearing Michael masks, and there ya be...Haddonfield's finest looking dumber than dirt while its most unwanted pest has his way about town once again.

By the time the smoke has cleared with Michael allegedly dispatched in an abandoned mine shaft, everyone believes the day is won, yet oh, Lord, what are those familiar piano tones and what is that camera doing with a mask's eyeholes covering them? Why is Jamie's foster mother screaming her lungs out? Why is Loomis crying on the steps with his gun raised? Why, it's because Jamie, who held Michael's hand for a fleeting second in the finale apparently grabbed a psychic link which caused her to stab foster Mommy and thus tie herself (in clown gear, natch) to her only living blood. Oy...

Danielle Harris (who has the distinction of being in as many Halloween flicks as Jamie Lee Curtis at four) later went on to dirty up her mouth and flash her yabbas in Rob Zombie's 2007 remake of the original Halloween and his sequel from this year. It's one of the few times I personally felt squeamish at the sight of bare flesh onscreen because Danielle Harris is so effective at her job in Halloween 4 and 5 her waif-like imploring to Michael to remove his mask in the fifth film is almost as deep-cutting as the late Heather O'Rourke whimpering over her dead bird in Poltergeist. Seriously, I felt a little creepy watching the older Danielle (playing Annie from the original set of characters) pull her boyfriend between her legs and command him to say how much he wants to fuck her.

The entire premise of Halloween 4 and 5 is just as irresponsible and mean-spirited as the third film since Michael's obsession in these two jaunts is to dispatch his little niece--and of course anyone getting within slashing reach. Yes, children are afraid of The Boogeyman, which is the foundation to creating Michael Myers, but over the course of two movies, is not just a bit sadistic to have his continuously-chased protagonist of elementary school age?

One of the few itches about Halloween 4 I have is the structure of Michael's mask in this one. It was reported Little and his production staff originally wanted to use the vintage Shatner mask but it had worn out to a delicate state, hence a replica store mask was purchased and touched up for this film. That at least jives with the scene here where Michael walks into the five and dime and slips his new death vestige on, even if it's hokey he can go about his business unimpeded. Nobody at least saw the pale ghost face in the broken mirror shards after Jamie meets her uncle for the first time in the store and shatters it in fright?

Still, no matter how ghoulish Michael's death shroud is in every single Halloween film he's appeared in, doesn't it sometimes look bloated in this one nonetheless, as if Michael jacked a cream puff stand along the way home? He looks more menacing in face bandages and a hospital gown when he impales a mechanic to procure a new set of coveralls. In contrast he's laughable standing erect like a kid's punching dummy and waiting for Ellie Cornell to plow him down with the truck--even funnier when he launches from the impact instead of falling kersplat beneath the steel wheels. He's almost like a cardboard standup raised by the effects crew when he rises up for a final lunge at Jamie before the rednecks blow him apart. Ahh well, we know damned well this isn't the end of Michael and we know his mask takes on a different mold in the next chapter, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers.

When push comes to shove, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers was escapist fun back then and easygoing mindless entertainment today, albeit that thumb-pressed boring into the medic's forehead during the ambulance sequence is hardly easygoing. Not one a top dog of the series, but it was fairly stylish, sharply filmed and a lot of nonsensical glee back in '88. Just getting to watch Michael do what he does best--this round in a pudgier mask and hockey pads beneath the jumpsuit to bulk George P. Wilbur up--it was easy money for the Akkad clan who only invested five-plus million into this vehicle and recouped almost three times that in the total box office draw.

No wonder Michael just won't die...

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