Little: Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Halloween IV is, as the subtitle suggests, the moment in the Halloween franchise at which Michael Myers is reinstated as the main antagonist. Ten years later, however, Myers had had enough of an impact to make it impossible to think of him without some element of camp, or pastiche, with the result that Halloween IV also starts a much more hyperbolic and self-referential style for the franchise as well. In part, that’s because it almost inadvertently draws upon the collective slasher vocabulary that emerged over the 1980s, showing the influence of films that were themselves influenced by the original Halloween. When director Dwight H. Little starts with a near-identical replica of the opening of the first film, then, the result isn’t so much a return to origins so much as an irreverent acknowledgment that those origins are impossible to recapitulate, and now only really accessible or available as camp.

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This heightened atmosphere also means that this is the first film that feels pitched at the same level of inanity and intensity as Donald Pleasace’s performance of Samuel Loomis, who graduates into an obsessive, operatic and histrionic protagonist in his own right over the course of Halloween IV. Whether he’s wading into a stream to examine a blood-soaked ambulance, or shaking children until they’re scared out of their senses, he’s both more symbiotically linked to Myers than ever before, but also more dissociated from even the most notional sense of medical authority or legitimacy. Indeed, as a psychiatrist observes early in the film, Loomis’ ongoing existence in the facility used to house Myers is “more ceremonial than medical,” since Loomis is arguably the “one who needs mental health treatment.” Seeing Myers return to the streets is thus presented as a double blow for the health establishment, not merely because of the concatenation of bodies that accrues in his wake, but because it also returns Loomis to medical discourse, when it seems pretty clear, in one doctor’s words, that everyone hoped he would “either transfer, retire or die” once Myers had been finally locked up for good at the conclusion of the events of Halloween II.

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In other words, Loomis is splendidly irrelevant in Halloween IV as never before – or, rather, the franchise embraces his inherent irrelevance, allowing his baroque pronouncements to bloom to hyperbolic proportions. Even though he’s still not in the film all that much, his histrionic performance seems to tower over every other character, until the only figure who seems capable of matching his intensity is Myers himself. The blanker Myers becomes, the more Loomis intensifies his charisma and hysteria to fill the void left by that blankness, until it seems as if, between the two of them, we’re seeing something like the dynamic of American paternal authority playing itself out before our eyes – a perverse placeholder that has to be continually propped up and filled out by hallucinatory discourse in order to make its vacancy register in a meaningful way. It’s no coincidence that the only time Loomis meets someone “real” who can match his trademark intensity is also the most memorable sequence in the film, as he hitchhikes back to Haddonfield with a Bible-bashing “apocalyptic-hunter” who seems to recognise Loomis as a fellow roadside prophet, a purveyor of American rapture, and embraces him accordingly, in what is probably the only genuine dialogue that the doctor enjoys over the course of the entire Halloween franchise.

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With Loomis so front and centre, the film brims with a charismatic surplus that can’t quite be contained by Myers’ renewed killing spree, so it’s not surprising that Halloween IV also restores and updates the teenage charisma of the original film, which was not really a feature of Halloween II or Halloween III, both of which largely bypassed adolescents to focus on either childhood innocence or adult sleaze. By contrast, Halloween IV is so suffused with 80s teen exuberance that it could almost play as a John Hughes film outside the horror sequences, often recalling Friday the 13th Part IV in the way it manages to craft a brilliant coming of age film that just happens to feature a slasher at its core. Unlike the first film, however, the teenagers this time around are pretty sympathetic, meaning that while they may participate in the broad charismatic matrix that exudes out from Loomis, their presence also makes him seem as arcane and as alien as Myers himself, as the film increasingly finds itself split between two different horror generations – those who watched the original film at the time it was released, and those came of age to a slightly later iteration of 80s horror.

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That transition would culminate with Halloween V, which was released only a year later, and in many ways plays as the first slasher film of the 90s. In the case of Halloween IV, however, we’re still very much in an interstitial space, as Little outlines a vision of Haddonfield that is almost identical to the townscape of Halloween and Halloween II at key moments, but also replete with fixtures and details that speak to the passage of the intervening decade as well. Not only does that begin the tradition of returning to Haddonfield, cinematically, every decade, but it also translates the sublime porosity of the original film into a more temporal frame and register. Once again, windows, doors and fences seem to dissolve at Myers’ approach, but these spatial thresholds are now enhanced by a sense that the ten year gap between the original killing spree and the present has grown similarly murky. As the night proceeds, the action becomes looser and more abstract, until Little’s vision of suburbia ends up drawing upon Elm Street as much as Halloween – or showing how much Elm Street itself drew upon Halloween – to deposit us in a dream-like and distended back-end of the holiday night, a strange space reserved only for the last stragglers and deepest recesses of dreams.

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Within that heightened and abstracted space, Loomis and the various teenagers absorb most of the charismatic and irreverent overtones of the film, reserving the horrific kernel for Myers’ relationship with Jamie Lloyd, Laurie Strode’s niece, played by Danielle Harris. Coming at the tail end of the 80s, Jamie forms part of a long line of children whose psychic connections with new media, and whose growth under the aegis of new media, makes them conducive to supernatural forces and experiences within the vocabulary of horror cinema. In the case of Halloween IV, however, that mediating function is condensed to Myers himself, with the result that Jamie shares the same relation with him that 80s horror children so often do to cable television, the rise of home computers and the broader sense of an emergent and omniscient digital culture. Just as the threat of new media typically comes from the way in which it supplants the suburban father’s function as arbiter of both affection and discipline, so Myers here plays the role of intensified father figure to Jamie, using his killing spree to continuously articulate his paternal proximity to her but never actually using that proximity to kill her when he has the chance, until his bloodbath eventually plays as a perverted gesture of protection more than an attempt to destroy her.

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On the one hand, that gives Halloween IV a much more soulful, mystical kernel than any of the previous three films, although it produces a much darker conclusion than even the third film, as Jamie, having seen Myers burned alive without being able to properly protect her, internalizes his paternal voice and commences a killing spree of her own, with her mother as her first victim. So unbearable is that prospect, and so unbearable are the demands placed upon Jamie to acknowledge the peculiarly and perversely protective agenda set out by Myers, that the conclusion leaves behind conventional suburban realism altogether to morph into the hallucinatory dream state that plays such a critical role in Halloween V. For the most part, though, Halloween IV is suspended just before this moment, at the point at which the reality of suburban paternalism comes as close as it can to acknowledging itself, and its real conditions of production, before forced to deflect itself back into dreams again.

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About Billy Stevenson (353 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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