by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
Little critical or fan attention has been expended upon the Halloween franchise outside of the first and second titles of the series and the latter additions. The general consensus is that after the conceptual shark-jump of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982), with its brazen rejection of not just the Michael Myers plot but the entire subgeneric slasher framework altogether, little of real interest happened until Jamie Lee Curtis returned once again as Laurie Strode in Halloween: H20 (Steven Miner, 1998). Rekindling audience fascination with The Shape, the franchise’s contemporary regeneration continued with Halloween: Resurrection (Rick Rosenthal, 2002) and Rob Zombies’ surprisingly intelligent “de-imagining” in 2007’s Halloween, and the recent follow-up, Halloween II.
By the 1980s the sheer proliferation of sequels had riddled the decade with remakes and rehashes of successful originals, anywhere up to 145 by one count. By virtue of this bulk, an unspoken ‘quality versus quantity’ divide became increasingly instilled in both fans and critics: not immune to the law of diminishing returns, the more sequels there were produced, it seemed, the less likely those films would be viewed to hold any critical value. The original Halloween had earned a place in the critical canon by virtue of both its surprise success and its landmark historical placement as the film that launched the US slasher cinema wave of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Halloween II (1981) also garnered some critical interest – while not directed by Carpenter, he was still involved with the production and scriptwriting, thus providing a certain sense of authorial validity to the project (the inclusion of the stars of the original film, Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance also branded it a ‘genuine’ product). But as the subgenre upped its output and increased its sequel numbers, the interest sparked by the first Halloween film rapidly fizzled outside of attacks of its assumed reactionary backlash to the supposed (but debatable) liberal glory days of the genre’s more celebrated heyday in the 1970s. David Bartholomew typified this position when he stated that “the Eighties horror film was, in fact, dumb, even driving the decades-dependable formulas into outdated nonsense…The modern horror film has become instead simply a test of stamina: can one sit through this film without throwing up?”. These films, Bartholmew claims, destroyed any capacity for horror to contain ethical or political meaning, sacrificing themselves instead to what he holds is the comparatively worthless visual spectacle of gore and tits.
It is perhaps surprising, then, that the fourth film in the franchise contained very little of either. But by this time, it was too late: the small amount of critical attention that Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers did receive still sparked near instantaneous denunciation almost solely because of its status as a sequel. In 1989, Steve Biodrowski at Cinefantastique dismissed the film as a feeble regurgitation of the franchises stronger earlier offerings. But there are significant deviations from the first two films of the cycle that render accusations that Halloween IV was merely churning out what Biodrowski called “the same old story” grossly unfounded. In fact, I argue that it is the precise manner in which Halloween IV strays from not only the rest of the films in the Halloween series, but from the popular 1980s subgenre as a whole, that render a re-evaluation both fruitful and long overdue. Halloween IV challenges the nature of and desire for basic narrative-propelling melodramatic structures of good/evil and categories such as the final girl, highlighting the precise reason that these ethical structures need to be clear for the rest of the subgenre to ‘work’. The always-abundant psychoanalytic readings of the earlier Halloween films may be satisfactory, but Halloween IV clearly invites a different approach through its ambivalent representation of one of the franchises main thematic concerns: evil.
Rewatching Halloween IV
These absences and deviations manifest in the first few moments of Halloween IV. As a point of comparison, it is useful to remember how earlier films begin: Halloween opens with a black screen with the words “Haddonfield, Illinois”, which then fades to the words “Halloween Night, 1963”. Halloween II continues this pattern of clearly specifying spatial and temporal information in the first few moments: it opens with only the slightest alteration to update the spectator as to where the narrative intends to pick up. The first screen (again) specifies location (“Haddonfield, Illinois”), the second, time (“October 31. 1978”). Even Halloween III provides this same information in its first seconds: “Northern California/ October, Saturday the 23rd”. But in Halloween IV, while the letters on the black background specify the time – “October 30, 1988”, the location is surreptitiously absent. For viewers familiar with the series, a significant disturbance to the spatial/temporal patterns established in previous films has already irrevocably occurred, even before the action starts – we do not know where we are, but we do know when we are there. The similarity of titles at the beginning of Halloween andPsycho has not been ignored. But while in Psycho they create a documentary tone, in Halloween they are easily dismissed one of many cute, intertextual homages to Hitchcock’s film. This comparison of opening scenes between the earlierHalloween’s and Halloween IV may seem simplistic, but it’s meaning cannot be underappreciated. By omitting half of the information traditionally supplied in the films’ opening moments, Halloween IV subverts the traditions of the earlier films even.
Halloween IV cuts from a black screen announcing the date, and over a low- frequency, electronic hum, sounds of nature and music are introduced over a series of images that suggest a regional location (one riddled with ratty Halloween decorations). This is a strong contrast to the images of suburban Haddonfield in the first two films; not only is it rural, it is unidentified and continues to be so even at the film’s conclusion. We are “nowhere”. The following events suggest (perhaps) we are near the Ridgemount Federal Sanatorium, but this is an assumption based on “where else could it be?” rather than factual information (such as the direct transfer of text-based information in the earlier films). The musical contrast provided in the opening moments of the first two films (the children singing the “Halloween night” rhyme inHalloween, “Mr Sandman” in Halloween II) are replaced by atmospheric mood music in Halloween IV. The sound design emphasises the natural environment as much as the non-diegetic musical accompaniment.
It is over this sequence that the opening credits roll. While the first three films open with overtly non-diegetic opening sequences (Halloween II and Halloween III offer slight variations to the famous “pumpkin eye” sequence in the original film), the opening credit sequence of Halloween IV alludes (but never confirms) that what we see is part of the diegesis. This sequence is drenched with a deliberate ambiguity: we never find out where this space is, whether it is part of the film’s world or an externalised addition to it. Thus the initial moments of Halloween IV destabilize the earlier films: time here may be definable, but this time around, space is undetermined from the outset.
The credit sequence ends as night falls, and an ambulance weaves through a deserted road to arrive at the Ridgemount Federal Sanatorium. Clanging gates and uniforms indicate brutal institutionalism, and it is announced that the two white-coated guests the ambulance has brought (a man and a woman) wish to transport killer Michael Myers to Smith Grove (a name of instant significance to those familiar with the series as it is from here that Myers escapes in the beginning of the first Halloween film to begin the rampage that provided the story for the first and second films). With a guard helpfully reminding us of who Myers is and what had happened in the first two films, via the Smith Grove attendants, we penetrate deeper into the Sanatorium until Myers is shown with his face wrapped in bandages (he was, of course, badly burnt in the climactic scene of Halloween II. Michael’s death-like pose suggests classic horror monsters: mummies and Frankenstein’s come to mind as much as from the outset invites comparison with Halloween IV. Both films open with those at rest (the corpse in Frankenstein and the institutionalised Myers in Halloween IV) are being disturbed by medical science. During the journey to Smith Grove, Myers springs to life (and to violent attack) after overhearing his nearest living relative is a young girl. The killing of the male attendant is shown – Michael uses his hand to do so – but the action scene is cut short by a dramatic shift to seven-year-old Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris, who turns up as a friend of Rob Zombie’s final girl in his recent de-make) looking out of a window in a suburban house. In a moment of ambiguity, she looks at an ambulance on the street that suddenly vanishes (it cannot be the ambulance Michael is in, surely, but then why show it?). Her foster sister, teenage Rachel Carruthers (Ellie Cornell) enters, scolding Jamie for being awake so late, thus establishing her position as caregiver. Jamie follows with a series of probing questions – does Rachel love her? Eleven months after her parents’ death, Jamie is clearly disoriented and lonely, and feels like an outsider. Her mother, we later discover via photos Michael discovers in a shoebox in Jamie’s room, is the Final Girl from Halloweenand Halloween II, Laurie Strode (Jamie Leigh Curtis). In this box, Jamie also keeps a photography of Michael himself as a small child, wearing his famous clown outfit – not only, therefore, does Jamie know what Michael wore when he murdered Judy Myers, she also identifies him as “family”. In what is soon exposed to be a dream sequence, Jamie says her prayers and goes to bed (after walking past her dressing table, repeating her image in its three mirrors, but is attacked by Myers – the literal boogeyman underneath the bed. The plot information communicated in this sequence is vital to the film’s concluding ‘twist’: Jamie is clearly a troubled child who feels excluded and an inconvenience to her foster family.
Jolting to a cheery, festive outdoor suburban street scene, we are returned to the familiar location of the earlier series openings and the titles that were so notably absent from the film’s opening moments are finally shown, restoring a sense of balance: “Haddonfield/ 31 October/ Halloween”. Finally, we now know both where we are and when. But what we knew immediately in Halloween and Halloween II takes over ten minutes to confirm in Halloween IV: these aspects of delay become increasingly crucial to the film thematically. It is this point that Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasance, returning to his famous role) discovers that Myers has escaped from the ambulance, he provides what has by now become Loomis’ trademark view on Myers Calling him “it”, he reminds us that Michael is no “ordinary prisoner, we are talking about evil on two legs”. Evil” as pronounced by Loomis with a heavy emphasis on the ”e” – as opposed to “evil” – is vital in theHalloween series (and arguably all slasher films). This “Evil” is pantomime morality, an excessive and arguably hollow signifier of a more complex ethical framework.
In a parallel scene to when Laurie Strode’s male babysitting charge Tommy is teased at school in Halloween, Jamie is teased by other children who sing, “The Boogeyman is going to get you!”. The superficial motive for this attack is her blood ties to Myers: while Tommy is teased about being threatened by the boogeyman, Jamie is teased because she was aligned with the bogeyman (“Jamie’s uncle’s the boogeyman!”). This harassment soon sets its sights on her mother’s death. Evoking the image of bandage-clad Myers in earlier in the film (and, more broadly, with more classical horror iconography), one boy states “Jamie’s mommie is a mummy!”. Where Tommy trips and falls, Jamie instead runs to a lamppost where she consoles herself out loud, repeating “You’re ok” – and notably, she IS ok. While delicate, Jamie can clearly take care of herself, an element pivotal in defining slasher’s Final Girl character. While Rachel’s age and role as caregiver suggest her for the position, Halloween IV indicates early in the film that this occupation may feasibly be shared between the two girls.
Loomis travels from Ridgemount to Haddonfield and confronts Myers at Penney’s gas station. We see Myers murder a haggard mechanic and discover with Loomis the body of a woman at the counter of the store and the hanging body of another man in the garage. Loomis sees Myers in the kitchen through a doorway and shoots at him repeatedly, front on. But, in a peculiar shot suggesting more a hall of mirrors than anything else, Myers suddenly vanishes. His shifting prowess has been observed in past films, but here we have an added reason to doubt Loomis’ perception of events; Dr Hoffman has already stated his belief that Loomis “is the one who needs psychiatric help”, and Loomis’ manic behaviour does little to negate this.
Meanwhile, in another ominous foreshadowing of the film’s conclusion, Jamie chooses a costume at the store identical to the one Myers wore in the famous opening sequence of Halloween. Jamie holds the outfit up to herself in the mirror, but it is a young Myers whose reflection she sees. She is then attacked from behind by the adult Myers and falls, shattering the mirror. Rachel runs when she hears Jamie scream, but dismisses Jamie’s declaration that the “nightmare man…is coming to get me”, telling the child she “probably just saw a mask” that scared her. The sequence ends with a shot of Myers’ reflection in numerous shards of broken mirror on the floor.
Determined to get to Haddonfield, the hitchhiking Loomis is mocked by a car full of boisterous cheerleaders and accepts a ride with alcoholic, self-proclaimed preacher Mr Sawyer, with whom numerous parallels to Loomis are drawn. Calling Loomis a “fellow pilgrim”, he identifies that both men share their occupation of “hunting the apocalypse”. Clearly eccentric, the two men are allies: Loomis’ pursuit of Myers is not only futile (he refers to this frequently throughoutHalloween IV), but by this stage it is an evangelical obsession founded on his belief of a Manichean moral universe, where Myers can only be understood on a near transcendental level as absolute evil.
As a medical doctor, science had failed and disillusioned Loomis: he cannot conquer (let alone ‘cure’) his boogeyman, deserting secular empiricism for a near medieval religious fervour. Like Frankenstein and those in horror who follow this lineage, Loomis is a classic mad doctor. In both Halloween and Halloween II, he literally saves the day (not to mention the girl). He is a dominant, strong figure in the first two films, and it his sense of the true threat of Myers and his drive to action enough to render him the closest the films have to an alpha male. But this all but collapses in Halloween IV, rendering him as little more than a sad, obsessed old man chasing if not windmills, then a killer he himself admits is beyond redemption and unable to be contained. More importantly, Loomis’ identity has itself become just as inextricably linked with Myers as Victor Frankenstein’s was with his monster. Loomis is defined through his opposition to Myers, and the simplicity of this relationship is near Cartesian: StompTokyo.com observes, Loomis “departs in pursuit of the killer, because that’s what he does”.
Halloween and Halloween II establish a simple binary opposition of good and evil are played out in a frequently violent and graphic battle. But in Halloween IV, the increasing hysteria of Dr Loomis in the first two films is exaggerated to a point of insanity. Mr Sawyer’s spirituality is offered as a point of comparison – he may have “I believe the bible” and “I Heart Jesus” bumper stickers and sing hymns, but he is clearly an obsessive drunk rather than a spiritual crusader. Loomis, as a “fellow pilgrim”, may speak of destroying evil, but like Mr Sawyer it is impotent posturing rather than actual moral or spiritual action that unites them. Any potential of Loomis’ heroism exhibited in the final scenes of the first two films, as a figurative ‘white knight’, has vanished – rather, he is now a jester figure.
Halloween IV’s Haddonfield is also riddled with duplicity. The film is littered with mirrors and reflections, and – in the case of the ambulance and Myers in the gas station – of images that may or may not be real. But there are further deceptions – Brady returns to the Meeker’s house to have sex with Kellie despite his pleas to Rachel that “it’s not what you think” (it is, in fact, precisely what she thinks). Mr and Mrs Carruthers’ need Rachel to babysit so they can elicit promotion from Mr Carruthers boss. And, seeing Jamie’s costume, the school children that had only hours before teased her now ask her to accompanying them on their trick-or-treating endeavours.
These themes of duplicity and disorientation are most dramatically represented when the separated Jamie and Rachel are reunited and placed in the police car by Meeker and Loomis. Michael Myers appears simultaneously three times, surrounding the car. Loomis reflects the viewers’s confusion and panic, but as Meeker raises his gun it is discovered that these are merely teenagers skylarking in Myers outfits. Laughingly they run away, but Loomis (and the spectator) remain shaken: in Halloween IV we cannot trust what we see. As the three faux-Myers flee and Meeker’s car drives away, the ‘real’ Myers appears behind the car watching them as they leave.
Loomis and Meeker discover that there has been a massacre at the police station in their absence. Peculiarly, in what could quite easily be the film’s visceral showpiece, the action of the (at least) three killings occurs solely off-screen. We see the aftermath: there has obviously been mass destruction, but we only see one body. Bereft of a police force, Loomis provokes a mob to find and kill Myers, with “Beer Belly” Earl in control. The mob sees Myers in a park and shoot, only to discover they have in fact killed Ted Hollister. The crazed mob again draws parallels with Frankenstein – while on a rampage they adamantly believe morally sound (they as good versus monster as bad), their own criminal and immoral actions throw moral questions back onto society itself, inviting a reassessment of terms such as ‘monster’ and ‘evil’.
Sheriff Meeker’s house failure as a makeshift fortress is twofold, as not only is Myers already in the house, it is not just he who poses a threat inside the walls. As Rachel confronts Kellie in the kitchen about Brady, an angered, Rachel throws hot coffee on Kellie’s crotch. This sequence initiates the climactic sequence of killings. Kellie takes coffee to Logan but instead discovers his body (again, murdered off-camera – we see his head which appears to have been decapitated). The figure she talks to as Logan is Myers sitting in Logan’s chair: Kellie is attacked by Myers with a gun, but instead of shooting her she is impaled through the stomach by the barrel. This is shown on-camera.
As Myers makes his way upstairs to find Jamie, he encounters Brady. Brady attempts to shoot Myers, but cannot use a gun – he instead (like Myers) uses it as non-firing weapon, hitting Myers with the handle. When the gun is taken from him he resorts to fisticuffs. Myers kills Brady with his hands, breaking his neck on camera. Myers continues to follow Rachel and Jamie to the attic – it is here at this late stage that we see Myers first reach for his traditionally signature butcher’s knife, significantly over one hour into the film.
The girls climb onto the roof, where Rachel tries to save Jamie by tying electrical cord around her and delivering her to the ground below, but Myers pushes Rachel off the roof before Jamie is safe. Jamie makes her own way to the ground (notably she does not even need Rachel’s protection, undermining Rachel’s assumed position as solo Final Girl). Jamie cries “Come alive, Rachel”, but Rachel does not “come alive”, so Jamie runs decides in true Final Girl fashion to take action into her own hands. She and Loomis flee to the schoolhouse, where Myers appears and attacks Loomis. But Rachel also appears (‘magically’, seemingly blessed with the same shifting skills as Myers himself) and attacks Myers.
Myers’ final scene in the film shows him appearing from under the truck that carries the mob gleaming knife first and escaping girls to attack the three men standing in the back of the truck. He then pushes Earl through the driver’s window. Notably, he uses not the knife but his other hand to kill Earl (again, he kills using his own hand, literally ripping at Earl’s throat, shown on camera – unusual considering he is actually holding a knife at the time). After Rachel has flung Myers across her bonnet, he rises to stand in front of the car (knife clearly visible in the headlights), and Rachel slams on the breaks. Continuing with the references to Frankenstein, unseen to the police and Rachel, Jamie has moved to Myers’ body, where she touches his hand in a moment evocative of the Monster in Frankenstein first meeting the little girl Maria. Various issues concerning virtue are raised by this moment of comparison – not only concerning the nature of monstrosity but also, by association, the nature of innocence. A hysterical Rachel screams for Jamie to move as Myers reanimates, but he is again gunned down by the police and falls into an unused mine that lies just behind him.
The final sequence of the film cannot be undervalued in terms of this location of virtue and monstrosity. As Mrs Carruthers runs a bath for Jamie, the opening sequence from the first Halloween is repeated: first-person camera takes over walking through the house, the field of vision divided again into three sections – a predominantly black screen with two circles (eye holes) of vision, as if seen through the eyes of the mask. Scissors are picked up and Mrs Carruthers is attacked. Both narrative and technical aspects indicate that this is meant to be Myers. Mrs Carruthers’s scream draws the gathered crowd from downstairs to the bottom of the stairwell where they meet not Michael, but Jamie in an identical pose (and identical, heavily blood-stained clown outfit) as young Michael in the first film. In the most significant moment in the film (and arguably of the entire series), Loomis screams “No!” repeatedly, and aims to shoot Jamie only to be restrained by Meeker. The film ends with Loomis’ repeated screams fading into the credit music, Jamie standing in tableaux just as Michael had in the original scene.
Rethinking Halloween IV:
In slasher, the scream functions most commonly in two ways; it operates in terms of a reaction (such as seeing a dead or maimed body), or it operates as a primal utterance of fear of bodily harm to the self. Dr Loomis’ final scream in Halloween IV, however, is neither of these. Rather, it punctuates the precise crisis of the film; it is an existential scream. Increasingly questioned throughout Halloween IV is Loomis’ determination to protect innocence from monstrosity, and the instant that innocence becomes monstrous the collapse of the moral universe in the film is complete. It has been frequently threatened, challenged and weakened throughout the film, but it is Loomis’ scream and the negation “No! No! No! No!” that capsulates the angst of realising the ethical framework has collapsed. It is this moment in Halloween IVwhere the patriarchal dominance of defining the moral universe ceases to control the narrative; not only has Loomis failed to protect virtue, but that the symbol of virtue itself is monstrous.
In the little that has been written on Halloween IV, few have offered an insight into the significance of this ending, seeing it primarily as existing primarily as a curious but hollow twist on the famous sequence from the first film. Fangoria’sMichael Rowe suggests that Myers has ‘possessed’ Jamie, and while in the context of a horror film this would not be inconceivable, there is enough evidence in the film to suggest that troubled, lonely Jamie has other reasons to mimic her uncle’s behaviour. Kim Newman writes in the Monthly Film Bulletin in 1989, it is only “in the last few moments, replicating the first moments of Halloween, does the film even try to come up with new twists on the old themes, and even here it is crippled by essentially dull film-making”. Again, this reading views the sequence as twist-for-twist’s sake, and apparently what is deemed poor execution ultimately defeats any search for further meaning. But fans see these technical aspects quite differently. Providing a curious model for comparison, StompTokyo.com judges the film an ultimate success based on its placement as the fourth sequel in a series: For example, instead of being compared to earlier Halloween films,Halloween IV thus competes with titles such as A Nightmare On Elm Street IV: The Dream Master (1988), Friday the Thirteenth: The Final Chapter (1984), and Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil. PitOfHorror.com says “it’s beautifully shot and competently performed…Halloween IV’s conclusion, had they run with the concept, would have altered the course of the entire series.”
But obviously Halloween V did not “run with the concept”. According to Adam Rockoff, the motives for this were based on broader fan agitation making Stomp Tokyo and Pit of Horror’s responses unrepresentative of broader contemporary fan responses. But despite Rockoff’s suggestion that Halloween V ‘fixes’ the errors of its predecessor, the box office statistics he offers suggest this may not be quite as simple as he claims. According to Rockoff. Halloween IV was made for US$5.5 million and grossed US$17 million, topping the box office for the first fortnight weekends following its release. Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers, however, grossed only $11.5US million (Rockoff 172). It is possible, as Rockoff alludes, that fans were so disappointed with Halloween IV that they simply did not have interest in seeing Halloween V. But perhaps the thought of sweet little girl Jamie as a killer, while “distasteful and ridiculous”, was simultaneously titillating, or at least intriguing. That the series itself denied the possibility of Jamie as a killer in the following film – and that that film ultimately was less successful – suggests the possibility that the image of Killer Jamie as opposed to Virtuous Jamie may have contained more pleasure than Rockoff admits.
Past critical readings regarding the feminisation of the killer such as that by Carol J. Clover could be incorporated into a reverse Oedipal understanding of the relationship between Michael and Jamie. But Jamie’s crisis is most immediately a moral one – the one thing she can find solace in (her family) is the one thing that literally threatens her. She is fascinated with Michael (she approaches his apparently dead body after he has been shot), but she cannot connect directly with him for fear that he will kill her. She can, however, connect symbolically – by wearing his clothing and by mimicking his actions. Jamie is searching for a security she has not found it with the Carruthers’, despite their efforts, and as her immediate family, Michael is her only other available option. As she cannot make a traditional connection with him, she finds another way: she shifts her moral allegiance from that of her unsatisfactorily “innocent” girl-victim protected by the insane Loomis, the genuine but still immature Rachel, and the murderous “beer belly” mob, to that of her powerful, undefeatable bogeyman uncle.
This simple equation may explain Jamie’s actions within the context of her character development, but when incorporated into the broader framework of the film it becomes far more complex. Jamie’s moral classification is not a simple allegiance shift from one binary (good) to another (evil). Halloween IV literally opens in No Man’s Land, and throughout the film nothing is ever as it appears to be. Halloween, Halloween II and Halloween III all include direct footage of other horror films, a postmodern wink that indicates these films are knowingly aware of their status as horror films themselves. There are no such moments of postmodern smugness in Halloween IV; the comparisons to Frankenstein are thematic, not textual. There are killers, there are deceivers, and there are people beside Myers that can shift mysteriously. There are doubles, triples, illusions. Loomis is obsessive, mad, an impotent patriarch – little more than a drunk preacher ranting about evil. In Halloween and Halloween II there is some potency to his urgency, the spectator has some investment in his desperation trying to convince the town how much of a threat Myers poses to them. But Haddonfield of Halloween IVneeds little convincing: Loomis is at best superfluous. In generic terms, this redundancy can be compared best to John Wayne in The Searchers (John Ford, 1956), but as a lowly 4th sequel in the franchise, little critical attention has been paid to this fact.
For Biodrowski, Halloween IV offers nothing new or significant because ultimately it shows no deviation from the traditional narrative core where “the virginal baby-sitter will survive; the promiscuous slut will die”. And since the originalHalloween this model is frequently listed a defining aspect of the subgenre. True, ‘virginal babysitter’ Rachel does not get murdered, but considering Rachel’s goal was not to defeat Myers per se, but to protect and defend Jamie, it is arguable whether she has achieved anything at all. Kellie is killed, and while the ‘promiscuous slut’ of the film (the only nudity and sex in the film is a short sequence with Kellie and Brady), the demographic breakdown of the ‘body count’ of Halloween IVsuggests a far more complex situation than the puritanical crime-and-punishment model of earlier slasher films. Unarguably, Brady and Kellie engage in illicit sexual activity, and are murdered. But their deaths are anomalous within the context of the film itself and the nature of the other killings. It is established at the beginning of Halloween IV that Myers murdered sixteen people on Halloween night 1978 – the night that consists the bulk of Halloween and Halloween II. Including Judy Myers the total is therefore seventeen across the first two films. Virtually all of these murders are shown in frequently graphic detail, the rule of thumb being the younger (and more female) the victim, the more detail shown, the more intimate the camera work. Myers also stabs – most often with a knife, but often getting creative (such as the medical motifs in Halloween II). Halloween IV, however, deviates drastically from these patterns on a number of levels. The first murder shown is that of the male attendant in the ambulance – Myers kills him with his own hands, literally inserting his thumb through the man’s forehead (shown close up and in great detail). But when Loomis and Dr Hoffman arrive at the scene of the ambulance crash, it is stated that there were four people aside from Myers in the ambulance – it is not clear how many bodies are found (“It’s hard to tell – they’re all chewed up”). While it is the one body we have literally seen killed, in all probability it is meant to signify all four. The next murder scene is at Penney’s gas station – the on-screen murder of the mechanic under the car is shown (impaled with a crow bar), but the bodies of another mechanic (Garth, hung by heavy chains from the roof of the garage) and an older female inside at the counter are shown – this is another three bodies. There are, therefore, anywhere between four, and probably seven, corpses in Myers’ wake before he gets to Haddonfield. Loomis and Meeker discover the body of Jamie’s dog, Sunday, in a closet (the killing is not shown on camera but the body is shown). Bucky, a worker at the power station, is picked up and physically thrown onto live electrical wires by Myers – his death is shown in graphic detail. The next murder is significantly not committed by Myers, but by Earl and the mob of “beer bellies” – they believe they are shooting Myers, but the figure is obscured (to them as well as to us), and the body is in fact that of Ted Hollister. Not including Sunday, the body count currently stands at minimum six, probably nine – but only five, probably eight, committed by Myers. The carnage at the police station is ambiguous and it is impossible to glean actual statistical information as the entire sequence happens off-camera. There is a lot of blood and chaos, but only one corpse is shown. There were previously three policemen (not including Meeker) in the station earlier in the film, but according to Loomis the bulk of the police was wiped out (“You haven’t got a police force!”). Myers’ killing spree in Meeker’s house begins with Deputy Logan. His murder is not shown, but his body is. ‘Promiscuous slut’ Kellie and transgressor Brady both have their deaths filmed completely on camera and in great detail. After finally grabbing a knife, Myers attacks three “beer bellies” in the back of the truck and throws all of their bodies from the truck (these are shown as scuffles – it is unclear whether they have been stabbed or whether they have been just thrown from the truck). Earl’s throat is literally ripped out by Myers. This is Michael’s last murder in Halloween IV, but the final death (despite being “undone” in Halloween IV) is that of Mrs Carruthers, stabbed by Jamie.
Simply put, many assumptions about Halloween IV are unsupported by the text itself. While Biodrowski’s narrative equation “the virginal baby-sitter will survive; the promiscuous slut will die” may be supported by Halloween, Halloween II and some other slashers, in Halloween IV to reduce the complex demographical information of the body count to this equation is glaringly ignorant of the film’s deeper structures. Not including the massacre at the police station and Sunday the dog, there are seventeen murders in Halloween IV – the same body count as both of the first two films combined. Including the police station victims, however, the body count is substantially increased. Of those seventeen, only two victims can be considered to fall under the category of ‘punished’ teen, the same number that were murdered at the hands of people other than Myers himself. There are also seven potential teen victims offered in the film; Rachel’s friend Lindsay, the two cheerleaders and their two male companions and Brady’s two friends in the store. Traditionally, these would all be disposable victims, ripe for the proverbial slasher picking – teens of dubious morality that are given only the barest bones of character to indicate their status as little more than ‘slasher fodder’. But all seven disappear from the film undeveloped and unscathed, blood red herrings. What is of significance with the higher body count is that the number of on-screen killings is substantially less than the total number of corpses: even accepting the minimum deaths at the police station as three (the number of police shown in the building earlier in the film, minus Meeker who we see later), there are eleven killings shown on camera, four bodies shown on screen (while the murders were committed off camera) and at least two more policemen who we are only told have been murdered. For a slasher film it is unusual that half of the killings have been committed off-screen, and the slasher himself does not commit two of those shown on-screen. Nor, interestingly, are they committed by his traditionally signature knife – even in the sequence where he literally has a knife (the phallic darling of psychoanalytic readings) in his hand, he opts to use his other hand, committing what for all intents and purposes are ‘weaponless’ murders.
Halloween IV may prove unsatisfactory in this regard, as Myers’s frequently off-camera execution of evil is narratively and visually less dominant than we are traditionally used to it seeing in the slasher film. But this confusion is part of what the film is about: we are meant to be confused, and our ability to identify familiar ethical structures is obscured by literal double vision. We see Myers everywhere – his reflection in a broken mirror, in the doorway of the gas station, we see three Myers surround Meeker’s car. We see three Jamie’s in her bedroom mirror, we see Rachel die and spring back to life, we see Jamie morph into a young Myers not once but twice. What we see in Halloween IV and what know in slasher to be good and evil collapse under the pressure of the films own ambiguities. Transcending the usual reversal of good and evil, in Halloween IV it is not a question of melodrama providing the twist, it is that it vanishes altogether as a viable moral framework for the Halloween universe.
In Halloween and Halloween II, pleasure (albeit titillating and/ or perverse) is gained through watching Myers kill. By being denied these scenes, his position as evil is impacted more through what we believe about him rather than what we have actually witnessed. The absence of these scenes does not lessen our indirect cognitive understanding of Myers as the killer, but it does remove our direct sensory experience of his crimes. While narrative indicates his body count inHalloween IV is numerically greater than his past spree, it simply does not feel like it; aside from being forbidden to actually see a large number of these murders, there are other, more ethically complex murders in the film such as those Myers himself is not responsible for (Ted Hollister and Mrs Carruthers).
Halloween IV highlights its own ambiguities. It is a film of gaps, of absences, of things unseen and familiar patterns suggested but ultimately unfulfilled. Murders are committed but we are denied witnessing them. Halloween IVoffers a trail of breadcrumbs of pathos (poor Jamie!) and action (the violence!), but that path does not take us where we expect – to a morally legible conclusion where the killer is, if not killed, then at least suppressed until the next sequel arrives. The significance of Halloween IV lies in its ability to not only the lines between good and evil (and how we identify them within the context of a horror film), but to eradicate them completely. The symbol of virtue (Jamie) is ultimately exposed as aligned with the exact evil that her peers have struggled to protect her from. And those peers – Rachel, Dr Loomis, Earl and the “beer bellies”, Mr and Mrs Carruthers – are far from clearly legible themselves, and at best redundant.
Halloween IV may reflect a broader crisis of moral uncertainty. Good and evil did not vanish from the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the traditional mode of its representation (one that had been maintained for decades) was changing. “Who is the villain now?” asks Halloween IV, and the answer is not simply a case of “Michael”, “Jamie”, or even “Jamie and Michael” (Michael is still a killer after all, but – again – the moral legibility of everyone else in the film is also questionable). Rather, the answer is perhaps more rightly, “I don’t even know what a villain is anymore”. Morality and ideology are not interchangeable, but nor are they mutually exclusive. In the specific instance of Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers – and, indeed, Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers – readings pertaining to the impact of the end of the Cold War to American popular fictions would be possible, the effect of this moral panic upon film certainly warranting further investigation.
Perhaps inadvertently, Halloween IV picks up on a broader cultural crisis active at the time of its production: in the face of a rapidly vanishing enemy with the close of the Cold War, it is unclear quite what concepts like innocence and virtue can mean without an Other to define itself against. This crisis within the moral occult is of fundamental value not only to melodrama, but also to broader critical discourse that dares to venture outside of traditional investigative paths. While later 1990s slashers (such as 1996’s Scream and 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer) seem to consciously invite postmodern readings of slasher film, late 1980s slasher almost disappointed critics for not providing the same insight as those examined by the predominantly psychoanalytical model that was so enthusiastically applied to films of the 1970s. While approaches like these are not to be rejected, that their wholesale dominance of horror studies appears to be slowly grinding to an end may allow a continuation of long-overdue analyses of films like Halloween IV.