Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion) — ‘Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers’

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

Most folks, myself included, go to certain movies around the holidays. However, my favorite holiday of Halloween did not gain a film that genuinely celebrated it until 1978’s Halloween. John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick is rightfully considered one of the best horror movies ever made. It gave us an icon of modern horror in Michael Myers. More than that though, it created a franchise that spanned 11 movies, 4 continuities, and 40 years With the upcoming 11th entry, Blumhouse’s Halloween, set to be released on October 19th, I’ll take a look back at the Halloween franchise. In doing so, I’ll trace precisely how one of the most convoluted movie franchises in history got to the already divisive entry and why we need it.  This time around I’ll look at what happens when this franchise returns to the tried and true with Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers!

We’ve all heard the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” A sentiment which seemed to be shared by both the moviegoing audience of the 80s and the producer of the Halloween franchise, Moustapha Akkad. All he kept hearing from the audience was how the previous installment, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), “Wasn’t a ‘Halloween movie because it does not have Michael Myers in it.” So, like any good movie producer looking to line his pockets; Akkad chose to make another Halloween with Michael as its star. Not that I can blame him, after-all the 1980s was the golden age of the slasher flick.
As luck would have it, Universal Pictures was also not thrilled with the third entry’s performance or reception and reverted their distribution rights to Akkad. With the franchise under his power, Akkad quickly sold the distribution rights to the infamous Cannon Films; who had recently found success in the horror business with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Part 2 (1986). Akkad then approached John Carpenter and Debra Hill about participating in what was then titled Halloween IV. The producer proposed that they go back to the formula that started it all with Carpenter directing and Hill producing. Despite their attempt to leave Michael Myers behind, the creative duo agreed to work with Akkad.
Carpenter proposed a more psychological story treatment. Michael would be a more metaphysical prescience, the idea of whom would haunt Haddonfield. To expand such an idea into a screenplay, Carpenter recruited Dennis Etchison; who had penned the novelizations for Halloween II & III under the pseudonym  Jack Martin. From what I know about Etchison’s script it seems very interesting and the approach I would have preferred for another Halloween sequel featuring Michael. Alas, Akkad rejected said script, citing that it was “Too cerebral,” and that he “Just wanted to get back to the basics.” As a result, Carpenter and Hill chose to recuse themselves from the series and sold all their remaining interests in the franchise to Akkad.

By this point, it was the mid-to-late 80s. Not wanting to waste any more time and catch-up with the cutting competition, Akkad kept the ball rolling on the fourth film. The producer quickly hired young director  Dwight H. Little, who had just wrapped shooting on the low-budget action-comedy Bloodstone (1989). Little and a few writers swiftly came up with a take on the story for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988). Once they had an idea in place, Little tasked his writing partner Alan B. McElroy (who would later go on to write the terrible Spawn movie)  to develop the sequel’s screenplay.  Everything about this movie’s development was running at a breakneck pace though. To avoid a writer’s strike deadline, McElroy wrote the script in 11 days. Therefore, the first draft of the following script got made:

It’s been a decade since Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur) unleashed terror in the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night. Now, the assumed dead mass murderer makes his titular return with his sights on a new target. The daughter of the late Laurie Strode and thereby Michael’s niece, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris). All these years later, there is still only one man to stand in the way of another bloody Halloween night, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Will the good doctor be able to put his former patient to rest for good? Or, will it be another hellish Halloween?

Well, what this movie ends up being is an inferior remake of Halloween (1978). However, what Halloween 4 tries to be a soft-reboot when you boil it all down. It’s just that that particular term didn’t exist in the 80s. No matter what you care to call it; Halloween 4 is the entry that begins to muddy the continuity of this franchise. But, I’ll get into that later. This picture has many fans, viewers who were just thrilled to have Michael Myers back in the mix. I, however, am not one of those people.
Now, before I start to rail on Return let me say that this film does have a couple of things going for it. The most notable of which is Danielle Harris in her big-screen debut. Despite Harris’ young age and inexperience, the actress does a fantastic job in her role. That’s saying something considering I have trouble with the idea of The Shape stalking a child. Even so, Harris is the best member of an otherwise merely serviceable cast.

Unfortunately, I do not consider Pleasence to be in such a category. His performance here goes into what I like to call, “Loony Loomis” territory. The character is such a hambone this time around that he should have been reserved for Thanksgiving as opposed to Halloween. Then again, this cast is not helped by the change in perspective. Like others of its ilk in the era, Halloween 4 asks us to identify with the killer as opposed to the victims. In my estimation, this change in narrative tide is a mistake. Every previous entry in this franchise has had us as viewers identify with the victims. Thus, making it unique series among a multitude of slashers; alas, that’s not the case here.

Other than that, this movie does feature some good kills. The film is also competently made. Not that it’s a well-made movie, mind you. For being a sequel Halloween 4 doesn’t share the look or feel of its predecessors. Gone is the creepy atmosphere of the titular holiday. (Despite what the opening credits may lead us to believe.) This film is overlit; contains no suspense whatsoever, and feels like it should’ve gone direct-to-VHS back in the day.

At best, Halloween 4 is a watchable slasher picture if you stuck at home with the flu. For in such a sickly state, one might not notice how dull and uninspired this movie is. Despite the filmmakers best efforts, this movie is nothing more than a boring cash-in.  Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers  is a definite Franchise Implosion. A low point for this franchise that’s the cinematic equivalent of candy corn that got squished in a trick r’ treaters pocket.

Next Time, See How The Story Continues When I Review Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers!

In the meantime, you can also treat yourself to the other Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion) Reviews in the Halloween series.
Halloween (1978):

Halloween II (1981):

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982):

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: