In many ways, my decision to go back and view all of the Halloween films in order was due to the stretch of films between 2-4. These installments act as a perfect case study in how artistry is effected by the relationship between producer and consumer, as each of these films are emblematic of some sort of reaction in that dialogue. The sequel, as most are, represents a quick response to success that focuses on bringing back more of the same elements that made the original popular whilst expanding the razor thin mythology of the characters involved. Halloween III: Season of the Witch is, in many ways, an artistic reaction to the second in that it represents John Carpenter’s wishes to evolve his slasher series to an anthology with a wider scope beyond Haddonfield. The perceived (and totally undeserved) failure of that outing due to a clash with audience, critical and financial expectations very much impacted the structure and narrative of the next installment.
Titled The Return of Michael Myers, the fourth Halloween film is very much the producers’ response to Halloween III‘s failure to satisfy audience expectations. Following an experimental misfire, Halloween IV is easy to dissect primarily as that, as its intentions seem to be mainly to win back the audiences for which Season of the Witch is so divisive. Its an odd, cross genre connection, but in many ways this film reminded me of how Star Wars: The Force Awaken brought in new producers who appropriated elements of the original trilogy in order to curry the favor of those fans frustrated by the prequels. This technique is apparent even from the opening of the film: once more, the shape escapes lackadaisical ambulance workers mid-transfer to wreak havoc on Haddonfield. Once more, the workers at the original facility and state troopers do not heed the warning of a returned, but disfigured, Dr. Loomis who pursues Myers to his hometown. Other narrative beats repeats as well, from a narrative focused on Michael Myers attempting to murder all of his extended family to the killing of a mechanic for an outfit to minor points such as the untimely (but this time, offscreen) death of a beloved dog to to children’s clown costumes to even the appearance of fake Michael Myers that Dr. Loomis attempts to shoot.Even bits of dialogue seem to be picked out of the first two films, from Loomis’ insistence that he they are dealing with evil incarnate to another speech about how his former patient seems to have been waiting for ten years.
One of the few camera techniques that Dwight H. Little borrows are the point-of-view shots during a few of Michael Myers’ stalking scenes. However, for some reason the director opts to not include the auditory cue of Myers’ breath over these scenes, rather utilizing a rather barren sound of footsteps. He also stylistically repeats the point-of-view opening sequence of the franchise verbatim during the film’s final moments. While the film is less reliant on a soundtrack, Dwight H. Little does bring back Alan Howarth, half of the previous composition team, who includes many variations on the same themes present in the first two films. He also uses the same technique from the first sequel that bases fright off of a series of misdirections; people are rarely in the places they should be in the last half hour, as Michael Myers silently replaces the deputy while on several occasions Jamie runs into Dr. Loomis and Rachel when instead of the antagonist. These elements all add up to a picture that feels like its serves the express purpose of meeting audience expectations by replicating past successes. Halloween IV definitely feels as if it has little other ambition.
Perhaps the most apparent departure of The Return of Michael Myers from its predecessors is in the way it handles death. Though the body count balloons, many of the shape’s murders occur off-screen: Dr. Loomis discovers the unfortunate collateral damage of a waitress and dog, the Sheriff finds his station and police force eviscerated, and Kelly finds the brutally murdered deputy. Whether intended or not, these moments stunt the affect of violence as Little rarely dwells on them, allowing the deaths to pile up without any real weight. This diverges from the first two films, in which each death felt very much a pointed, stressful and strategic outburst as Myers attempted to kill his sister. Little, however, does very much make the same choice that Carpenter made in the second film in using gore when he portrays violence on screen, from the brutal penetration of Kelly via shotgun (which we must note, must follow a thwarted attempt to have sex because conventions dictate it must and she must die in a sexual fashion) to the skull fracturing of Brady, reminiscent of moments in Season of the Witch.
While all of these elements make for a great case study and continue to convince me that the Halloween franchise is worthy of a longer, more detailed and more formal bout of research and analysis due to just how emblematic they are of the dialogue that takes place between producers and viewers, this significance doesn’t necessarily translate to a film I can suggest is good, or even misunderstood. At the same time, I’m very unwilling to suggest it is an awful outing. The saving grace of this (and any) Halloween film is pacing, and again I noticed just how far it had progressed before I checked the timing. It’s an efficient effort to reboot the series that even proves entertaining at points, even if it only feels like a mediocre retread with little to no complexities or ambition as the credits roll. It’s also a film that seems to have very little faith in its audience, as points must be made as clear as possible, such as the moment in which Jamie in the clown costume is replaced by Michael in the clown costume, just in case we aren’t able to understand the equivalence. For a film that represents a return to basics, it has very little to say about the genre it inhabits or the iconography of the installments it utilizes, opting merely to borrow techniques and plot points for the mere purpose of fan service in order to make up for Season of the Witch.
There is, however, the last sequence, which hints towards the film Halloween IV could have been had it not been created primarily to make the franchise viable once more by merely meeting audience expectations. In it, Little takes his only chance by replicating the POV, masked sequence of the original. It is a tricky sequence that may, momentarily, suggest that Michael Myers is still alive and indestructible, but instead reuses the demasking moment for another horrific reveal that the culprit is actually Jamie. It’s a moment that, with a little more care, could have led to some sort of question of whether evil can run in the family, at least providing a little gravitas to an otherwise empty film. Or it could even represent taking a chance by changing the antagonist of the series to yet another Myers and watching her develop.
Instead, the status quo will return once more in The Revenge of Michael Myers.
Side Note: I understand that we want to reboot the series, and John Carpenter was very much opposed to it, but how in continuity’s sake can we explain the fact that Myers’ eyes were shot out but he still seems to get around perfectly? I know he’s a force of pure evil but, like, yeah.