Let’s get this out of the way: Halloween 4 isn’t much chop as a slasher. After the failed experiment of Halloween III, director Dwight H. Little (also known for Free Willy 2 and an Anaconda sequel) tried to return to the series to the atmospheric dread of Carpenter’s original without much success. At least the misshapen monster that was Halloween II mixed up the formula with a change in location and some splashes of giallo flavour; the mercenarily-named Return of Michael Myers is just a pale imitation of its masterful predecessor.
Still, in the wake of the execrable Season of the Witch, Halloween 4 is competent enough to feel like a success. The scares are muted and so’s the cinematography (Dean Cundey’s steady hand behind the camera is sorely missed), but it executes familiar slasher rhythms – established by Halloween and endlessly mimicked in the decade that followed – with sufficient proficiency to forgive its many imperfections.
It doesn’t hurt that the film offers a robust subtext that subsequent sequels either avoided (Halloween II) or clumsily overplayed (Halloween III might have a lot to say about corporate advertising brainwashing children, but none of it’s worth listening to). Despite a motley crew of four screenwriters, the third sequel unearths a potent, if simplistic reflection on the inescapability of trauma.
Having a deeper meaning beyond scares isn’t a requirement of great horror – nor can it redeem an otherwise shitty film – but it sure helps to distinguish films like this that would be otherwise indistinguishable from the countless ‘80s slashers out there. After you’ve watched a few (dozen) of these, the pretty teenagers, mounting suspense and accumulating body count all starts to blend together, you really appreciate the opportunity to latch onto something even vaguely cerebral.
Halloween 4 offers more than a few scraps for attentive viewers. It loosely ties its events to an absent Jamie Lee Curtis (who has a brief ‘cameo’ in a couple of faded photographs of Laurie, who apparently died in a car accident … at least until larger paycheques warranted a retcon) with one Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), Laurie’s young daughter. Jamie operates as a conduit for the scars left on the Haddonfield community in the wake of the murders of Halloween I and II. Over the course of the film, we witness a string of murders (naturally), but also the scale of the psychic wounds afflicting Jamie, Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence) and Haddonfield itself.
It’s a tough call as to whose trauma – Jamie’s or Loomis’ – is most vividly realised. Before ‘the Shape’ emerges from a decade-long slumber to slouch towards Haddonfield, Jamie is plagued by visions of Myers as both a hulking beast and a clown-costumed infant; it’s not only that she’s haunted by someone she’s only heard whispered about, but there’s clearly some kind of cosmic connection between the two. Loomis, meanwhile, bears scars physical and psychological from his run-ins with Michael. The intensity he exhibited in the first two films has escalated into all-out mania; where we once shook our heads at the cops’ reluctance to believe him, now it’s hard to believe he’s not shuffled back to the crazy house with all his yelling and spittle and such.
That these two would be especially affected by Myers’ return makes sense; what enriches Halloween 4’s depiction of trauma is how it extends its clinging tendrils into the surrounding community. When news breaks of Myers’ escape, a redneck militia arms themselves against the imminent threat (despite the disapproval of Haddonfield’s underequipped, understaffed police force). The town that Myers lurked through in Halloween is no longer an idyllic community unprepared for even the idea of violence. Now, it’s a broken place – a fractured, fragile town.
One could argue I’m drawing too long a bow here, fleshing out a thin argument into a genre that naturally lends itself to this sort of reading, what with the relentless killer and all. But any doubts about this interpretation are collapsed when you get to the film’s legitimately shocking conclusion, a bolt of energy that invigorates the stale slasher trappings that preceded it. Without going too deeply into spoilers, the climax provides a bracing example of the consequences of ingrained trauma, how it can fester and re-emerge in unexpected and tragic ways. The monster that is Michael Myers has become a cancer that consumes and corrupts a once peaceful town.
If nothing else, this goes some way towards forgiving the actual monster that is Michael Myers, given how terribly he’s executed there. I can understand why he’s been scaled up to full supernatural-pseudo-zombie mode, in the vein of the Friday the 13th sequels, but couldn’t they at least have dug up the mask from the original films? The misshaped-Shatner mask that was so terrifying in Halloween has been replaced by a pointy-nosed, (frankly) shitty looking thing that erodes most of Myers’ aura of menace. I mean, I get that he maybe didn’t get to hold onto his original mask at his stint at the Sanitarium, but even the goofy masks from Halloween III would’ve made for scarier costuming than this.
Still, if you’re looking for a film to add to your Shocktober roster, you could do far worse than Halloween 4, which offers a combination of competent scares and disquieting subtext sufficient to differentiate it from the ‘80s slasher suite.