Halloween 4 – The Return of Michael Myers (Return) is a strange beast. While its a strong installment (a score of 75.07 puts it in the top three of the three movies I’ve reviewed so far ), it gets to that score in unexpected ways for a slasher flick. However, it doesn’t do any good to just say that, does it? As a statistician, I feel the need to show why that is, preferably with a series of overly complicated graphs and numbers that no one in their right mind ever needed. So with that riveting introduction, here we go.
Useless side-note that probably doesn’t deserve a paragraph but gets two:
I’ve made some changes from my first two reviews. I removed “Plot” from my analysis because I felt like it is pretty obscure for me to label one scene a plot-related scene and another as a non-plot-related scene (technically, almost any scene in a movie could be loosely related to the plot). I’ve replaced “Plot” with “Exposition.
Also, I removed “Impact Percentage” which I don’t think I explained well. Instead I replaced it with prevalence which is just the percentage of the movie’s duration that a character or type of scene is present. (So if Michael Myers is in 45 minutes of a 90 minute movie, his prevalence would be 50%). I don’t plan to update my Halloween and Halloween II charts or reviews but I will have updated charts when I put together a summary post of the entire series.
Halloween 4 Viewing Experience Breakdown
Boy, Michael Myers isn’t very good in this movie, is he? This is seen in Figure 1 as there is only one scene in which Michael being the primary focus actually pulls the score up (and that is just him being carted out of the sanitarium which is more due to the amazing music). This is The Shape we are talking about! He is my favorite horror villain in any movie! And he brings the score down?! This is something I’ll revisit in my character breakdown but it was a shock that I found Michael this underwhelming.
In terms of the movie’s flow, the first eleven minutes are atmospheric with the opening at the farm and the sanitarium but it doesn’t do much to whet my horror appetite. The atmosphere is there but its not scary and Michael’s first kill is underwhelming on so many levels.
Thankfully, we get a strong character scene between our two new protagonists, Jamie Lloyd (daughter of the deceased Laurie Strode) and her step-sister Rachel Carruthers. Their chemistry is immediately apparent and I love these two characters. The score spikes to the highest it would be for the entire movie (around 84) after this scene during Jamie’s dream sequence. Not only do we get some genuinely heart-breaking stuff as she cries over her only picture of Laurie (her mother who died after Halloween II) being a publicity still from the first movie, but this dream version of Michael is as scary as he would get in the entire movie.
After a character development filled breakfast at the Carruthers house (Danielle Harris and Ellie Cornell are so good that some spotty writing doesn’t actually ruin these moments), we get some substantial time with our favorite insane doctor, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Never min
d that he managed to escape a point-blank explosion with some mild scarring to his hands and face… Loomis is back! Yes the logic doesn’t hold up but this movie (and Halloween 5 and Halloween 6) would have suffered much if they didn’t bring him back. Pleasence has got that weary acceptance nailed down here…he isn’t as theatrical as he was in much of Halloween II but he just adds so much gravitas and weight to every scene he’s in .
This portion of the movie is carried by the character work which occupies most of the time between minutes 14 and 35. We meet Brady and Kelly, see Jamie and Rachel bond, and follow Loomis who is on Michael’s trail back to Haddonfield. However, in my convoluted rating system, a “good” scene has a base score of 75 which is why the movie’s rating steadily dips during this section towards an average of 75. There needed to be something to spice things up here which is usually what Michael Myers is good for. Sadly, he’s not up to the task. Killing the mechanic, confronting Loomis (which is a great scene for Loomis but not so much for Michael) and grabbing his mask at the convenience store — none of these meet the high bar set by Halloween or even Halloween II. Hence why the score just keeps tracking down here.
This is why I feel confused for how much I like Halloween 4. My favorite scenes in the Halloween series are when Michael is stalking or killing (represented by “The Shape Stalks” and “Michael Myers Strikes” in Figure 2). However, as you can see above, there are hardly any scenes in this movie focused on Michael stalking (and the ones there are super short and ineffective). This is a huge departure from the first two movies. Michael is rarely seen in the background which is supposed to be his prized domain! Because of the lack of The Shape doing Shapey things, the score just continues to decrease through the midsection of the movie (other than an awesome moment of Loomis ranting to Sheriff Meeker at minute 38). There is atmosphere, particularly when Jamie and Rachel are separated and Michael is out there somewhere. There are good character moments. But without actual scares or suspense, it begins to meander. The score drifts down to around 73 right when the rednecks kill Ted Hollister, a pointless and boring scene.
Luckily, things begin to steady themselves at this point right as Brady gets lucky. That’s because around an hour in, all of the characters lock themselves into the Meeker house. Unbeknownst to them, they locked Michael in with them. While I do feel the entire sequence could have been far better (not sure if Dwight Little is the best director for a horror movie), the following fifteen minutes comprise the scariest portion of the movie outside of Jamie’s dream sequence earlier. There’s some decent simmering tension as we know Michael is going to strike but not quite when.
Finally, Michael does strike, first by killing Kelly (best death in the movie) and the phenomenal chase scene through the house. Everything about this sequence works…the music, the acting (Sasha Jensen is underrated here) and the set-pieces. Brady’s confrontation with Michael is tense and riveting. Sure Brady was cheating on Rachel but his attempt to protect her here redeemed him in my eyes. Just a really well executed death scene as this one is just a hair below Kelly’s death in my opinion (love the neck crush visual…its subtle while simultaneously being brutal).
And then we get that rooftop scene. Some may feel like this scene is Halloween 4 being too “actiony” but I disagree (that’s reserved for the climactic truck scene). This is probably the most tense chase scene other than the climax in the original movie. It’s thrilling and different (usually a character is just running away but in this case, they are freakin’ scrambling on a rooftop with nowhere to go), and Jamie and Rachel are two characters that we absolutely care about. I LOVE everything about this scene…
It’s a shame that the movie can’t maintain this upward momentum. When Rachel plummets to the ground and Jamie is left on her own, the movie had risen to a rating of 77. Things were looking up! Buuuuut….they drop the ball. Jamie runs into Loomis and they go and hide in the school and run into Michael. That is literally all that happens. There is no nuance or suspense. It’s a complete letdown after that seminal scene at the Meeker house and the movie stumbles back below 75.
Things are better after that with Rachel back in the picture. We get some very strong atmosphere during Jamie and Rachel and the rednecks’ ride out of town. Granted, again we don’t really get any sort of stalking scene (because how can Michael stalk a truck by foot?) but there is a decent buildup here. When Michael’s hand grasps onto the edge of the truck bed, despite the complete lack of logic involved here, I always react with “oooh shit.” The ensuing scene with Michael ripping Earl’s throat out and then being unable to rip Rachel’s sweater is very fun, but it strays a bit too far from what I prefer from my Michael Myers. Still its entertaining despite Michael turning into the Terminator.
And then Michael gets shot by a bunch of cops and that’s how he dies here. No creativity whatsoever. That’s why the score stays below 74 heading into the final moments. (And come on, they have Loomis actually say “Michael Myers is in hell…buried…where he belongs.” REALLY SAM?! Do you literally believe he is in hell? Or are you making some sort of a metaphor to sound poetic? Also, you do realize that you fucking blew him up at the end of Halloween II and that didn’t stop him?)
Thankfully, they saved their creativity for an incredible twist at the end. Spoiler alert, Jamie pulls a “young Michael” and attacks her stepmother. There is a great buildup of dread as we are in someone’s POV but don’t know whose. The music is exactly the same music that is playing when Michael was stalking Judith all those years ago and its such a bold move. Too bad they fumble it badly in Halloween 5.
So that’s a trip through the movie. Now lets talk about the pieces.
Halloween 4 Breakdown by Type of Scene
Halloween 4 tackles most of its exposition in the first twenty minutes (see Figure 3) where we get a status update for Michael from a helpful security guard (because Michael refuses to update his Facebook), we learn about Jamie’s tragic backstory, and get re-aquainted with our dear old Sam Loomis. Its all fairly effectively (even though they leap-frogged the major plothole of Michael and more shockingly Loomis being alive somehow) and none of it comes off as too on-the-nose or meandering. The exposition does its job early (74% prevalence at minute 18) and then vacates the premises for the rest of the movie ( 29% at the end of the movie) as seen in Figure 4.
While exposition is front-loaded (not a bad thing), character work is much more balanced. The dialogue scenes early on with Jamie and Rachel bonding and Dr. Loomis regretting his career in mental health are strong but they are intermingled with
exposition. The movie really doubles down on the characters once Loomis is chasing Michael to Haddonfield though. Between 30 and 45 minutes,character scenes are the highest scoring of the four major types of scenes (see Figure 3). Character prevalence peaks at ~65% about 32 minutes in (this is during the drugstore scene). This makes sense since its at this point where the movie turns more towards drama and horror as night falls.
With the character stuff comes character drama and surprisingly, it works in spite of its uninspired framework. We have a love triangle between Brady, Rachel, and Kelly which should not work but does because each actor injects some personality and enthusiasm into their roles. Jamie’s backstory by itself is dramatic enough with her being orphaned eleven months prior to the movie and dealing with her grief at the loss of her parents. And Loomis per usual is drama queen personified.
Once he arrives in Haddonfield, the movie transitions from character-drama to Haddonfield-existential-crisis-drama. Loomis warns Sheriff Meeker about the impending doom and in a nice touch, Meeker is not the cliched cop who dismisses everything. Instead, he institutes a curfew and takes action with the intent of stopping Michael before he really gets started. (Sadly his plans fail as his instituting a curfew mobilizes a drunken lynch mob who shoot an innocent man and his plans to lock all of the major characters up in his home doesn’t hold up when one of those major characters is Michael Aubrey Myers.)
Its this last development that keeps the drama increasing steadily towards the end of the movie. While the character and exposition stuff tapers off (see Figure 3), the drama keeps rising (because it’s inherently dramatic when a bunch of characters are trying to avoid a psychopathic killer while simultaneously locking themselves in with said killer). It’s a great setup which is good because the drama prevalence peaking at 75% at minute 73. If the drama wasn’t good, it’s likely the movie would have been scoring much lower at this point.
So exposition, drama and character scenes all work pretty well in Halloween 4. Sadly, its the scary scenes where this movie stumbles. There are very few legitimately good scary or tense scenes. Worse still, it feels like the movie forgets to focus on the scares which shows why the prevalence of tense scenes dips below 50% between 15 and 60 minutes. Figure 4 also shows that the movie is weighted too heavily towards other types of scenes. Those scenes, while strong in their own way, are not the reason anyone goes to see a horror movie.
So what specifically makes the scares weak in this movie? Check out Figure 3 and notice how there are hardly any spikes in the Tense Scene scores. What this means is that up until the final quarter of the movie when Michael finally lumbers into his final chase, none of the tense scenes were scoring highly. Even though the character work and drama was well executed, I would have preferred if some of it was switched out for legitimate horror.
You know what, I’ll explain more in my character section below. For now, here’s another pretty chart.
Halloween 4 Breakdown by Character
So…this is the return of Michael Myers? Michael looks like crap in this movie. Shoulder pads and a ridiculous mask do not make for a terrifying villain. He’s underwhelming and even in the great chase scenes towards the end, I dock points for Michael because I can’t look at him without rolling my eyes.
Figure 6 shows that Michael’s score trajectory is fairly flat (which is a big change from the first two movies). Even with his idiotic look, he could have still been effective. However, there are only a couple of moments in the first 70 minutes where Michael shines. He manages to make a late push to get to a score of 41 but for a movie that scored 75, that’s pretty damn low.
Figure 7 helps explain why Michael’s score graph never really goes anywhere until towards the very end. Michael is supposed to be all about playing cat and mouse with his victims but apparently, his ten years of being bed-ridden have rendered him incapable of any foreplay. His first three on-screen kills are the orderly in the ambulance, the mechanic, and Bucky. Which one of these kills involved any sort of stalking or gradual build-up in tension? NONE of them. Combined, these scenes run a little longer than two minutes. That’s not enough time to generate any sort of actual suspense. His ghostly, persistent presence from the first two movies is gone. His prevalence is only at roughly 50% for most of the movie which is because his scenes are so quick. I don’t mind focusing on other characters but Michael needed to be more pervasive for the tension to work. But the man ain’t interested in stalking no more!
Luckily, as I’ve mentioned, the other characters all make this movie work better than it should. The movie almost works like an ensemble as seen in Figure 6. Jamie and Loomis’ scores are very similar until minute 75 when Michael throws Loomis through a window and out of the plot. Meanwhile, Jamie is consistently ahead of Rachel but as the movie nears to a close, Rachel’s score edges closer and closer as they are essentially dual protagonists. In the end, their score differences (41.36 for Jamie and 37.31 for Rachel) can be likely accounted for by the fact that Jamie is more prevalent in the movie. (And what’s interesting in Figure 8 is that Michael is more prevalent than Jamie but she scores higher meaning her scenes were generally better.)
Figure 7 shows how the focus of the movie changes over time. After the initial sanitarium stuff, Jamie becomes the focus for a good ten minutes. We really get to know her (and like her because Danielle Harris is freakin’ awesome) and we immediately know we want this girl to survive (as we generally should for ten year old children).
Dr. Loomis then takes the reigns for the next fifteen minutes or so. He doesn’t need the same kind of development as Jamie and Rachel since we already know he’s batshit crazy but again, Donald Pleasence injects the movie with a level of pathos that makes this feel like more than just a regular slasher movie. He seems destined to be in this perpetual cycle of chasing after Michael and his brief scene where he pleads with Michael to not go to Haddonfield is excellently played.
Rachel meanwhile doesn’t really get a section of the movie where she is the main focus. However, much of the character drama involves her and her teenage life. While Loomis and Jamie have higher spikes early on in Figure 6, Rachel’s journey is more of a steady climb. Around 65 minutes in, all three characters’ prevalence are within roughly 5% of one another. Basically, all three characters helped carry this movie effectively while Michael floundered about.
Now a word on the side character…they are all quite good. Brady is a jerk but he’s relatable. He’s a selfish, immature high school kid but that doesn’t mean he should die and his confrontation with Michael is epic. Sheriff Ben Meeker is one of my favorite authority figures in any horror movie. He just exudes quiet dignity and competence and its a shame he’s completely marginalized in Halloween 5. And then we have Kelly Meeker. She’s the weakest of the side characters but even she is played with some subtle nuance that allows her to rise above her character’s stereotype. She has a semblance of a personality and isn’t a walking cliche which is all I ask for from my horror movies. All in all, these three characters help keep the movie afloat during that middle portion where the scares are just lacking.
This review may have sounded like I didn’t like this movie but that is not the case. My major beef with it is this movie is called The Return of Michael Myers but it doesn’t feel like it embraces the character of Michael Myers in any meaningful way. That said, the other characters are fully developed and endearing (probably neck and neck in quality with the original), the acting is generally good, and there are some classic scenes here that are seared into my memory. The rooftop chase scene and the awesome twist at the end alone are worth watching this movie. Halloween 4 isn’t great horror but it does enough other things well to score a 75.07. It just could have been so much better if Michael was utilized properly.