After the noble failure of Halloween III, the franchise went into hibernation and disappeared into a legal black hole which saw John Carpenter and Debra Hill ultimately sell their rights to Moustapha Akkad. The ongoing success of the Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger movies convinced him there was still money to be made in the Michael Myers business, and he took story pitch after story pitch, ordered script rewrite after rewrite, until he came across one he liked, just in time, too, considering the then-looming writer’s strike.
Alan B. McElroy and Dwight Little had come up with an idea that would not only resurrect Michael but also go a long way toward differentiating him from his various imitators. Slay all the horny teenagers you want, Jason and Freddy; Michael’s got his eyes set on his niece. He was going to break the horror movie taboo – he was going to try to kill a little kid. But first, they’d have to recreate that damn mask. How hard could that be?
Here are 9 things you may not know about Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.
1. Debra Hill and John Carpenter’s original story idea sounds so much more interesting
It’s always seemed odd Haddonfield wouldn’t eventually ban Halloween. At the very least, the town shouldn’t be selling Michael Myers masks. For example, I’m from Wichita, Kansas. We sure as heck don’t sell BTK masks in our costume shops. Because it’s seriously poor form to commercialize the exploits of your town’s infamous serial killer.
McElroy’s script disagrees, but before he ever came to the project John Carpenter and Debra Hill had an idea to explore what would happen if Haddonfield did, indeed, ban Halloween. They enlisted Dennis Etchison, who had penned the novelizations of Halloween II and III under the name Jack Martin, to see it through. As he recalls in the documentary 25 Years of Terror, “Halloween was banned in Haddonfield, and I think the basic idea was that if you try to suppress something it will only rear its head more strongly.”
Okay. But how would that work as a movie, exactly? Would there be a copycat killer? Something supernatural?
Luckily, Etchison was recently interviewed by Blumhouse (which is producing the next Halloween), and he went into considerable more detail about the plot:
The idea is that the town, after all those terrible murders ten years earlier, has banned Halloween. They don’t recognize Halloween as a holiday; they don’t allow Halloween masks and costumes or Halloween candy. And you know Hunt, the deputy from the first two films? Hunt is now the sheriff. And ten years of repression and suppression have boiled to the surface and there are some hints that He’s back!
So I foresaw on the poster the words, ‘The night he came home…again!’
They instead went with: Ten Years Ago HE Changed The Face Of Halloween. Tonight HE’S BACK!
And I had this set piece in mind where Michael Myers comes bursting up out of a big lot full of pumpkins. Erupting out of this orange mound. That would be a nice shot to use on the poster.
And at one point there was a speech — they have a town meeting and everyone is up in arms about whether they should have Halloween or not. And the guy who runs the local drive-in says, ‘You can’t ban a night of Halloween movies! I’m trying to make a living here! Kids wanna see horror movies!’ ‘Well, maybe they shouldn’t,’ some people are saying. ‘Maybe it’s better if they don’t see them.’ So the whole idea was repression versus acknowledging the bad things in the world.
See, the Michael in their script wasn’t the old flesh and blood killer but instead a ghostly apparition of him somehow brought to life and given power by the town’s repressed fear. Akkad, of course, hated the idea. Bringing Michael back as a ghost was not good enough. After Halloween III, innovation was frowned upon. More of the same, just slightly different. Rinse and repeat. That’s the slasher movie way.
It ultimately fell apart when Hill and Carpenter sold their rights to Akkad. As Etchison mournfully recalls, “I got a call from [Debra], saying, ‘I just wanted to tell you, John and I have sold our interest in the Halloween franchise and unfortunately your script was not part of the deal.’ Who knows why. Apparently the partners hired something like ten other writers to work on it after me, and I lost a Writer’s Guild arbitration over the credits, even though I was the first writer on the project. So my name’s not on the picture.”
2. Lyndsay and Tommy from the first Halloween were almost the protagonists
During the brief window when Halloween 4 was to be produced by Debra Hill and John Carpenter and written by Dennis Etchison, Gremlins’ Joe Dante was attached to direct. There was certainly no Jamie Lloyd in their script. Instead, they had Lyndsay Wallace and Tommy Doyle, i.e., the kids Laurie babysits in the first movie, as their protagonists. They were to be 10 years older and living across from each other, bonded by their experience and subsequent trips to child therapists, but no longer allowed to communicate thanks to Lyndsay’s over-protective mother. They each would have repressed their memories of “the night he came home,” but Michael’s return would cause it to bubble back to the surface and force them to confront their trauma.
Here’s how it all would have ended, according to Etchison:
Tommy and Lindsay go on the run into the countryside, away from Haddonfield […] It ends up with this tremendous bloody scene at the packed drive-in at midnight. It’s really incredible. And the Shape is there and he’s stalking and killing people right and left. Tommy and Lindsay get away. They wake up in a farmhouse outside of town, in the country somewhere, and she has had a dream that starts to bring it all together for her…In short, it’s not just a slasher movie. The story has a philosophy behind it.”
This might be why there is a teenage character in Return named Lindsay. Fans have long since speculated she’s supposed to be the Lyndsay from the first movie, but McElroy and others have argued no such connection was intended. Perhaps it’s a vestige of Etchison’s script. Maybe this is also why Halloween 6 made Tommy its protagonist. Maybe that was a Halloween IV idea they simply reused, even if not consciously.
3. The script was written in 11 days
In 1988, the WGA went on strike for 155 days beginning in March and ending in August, making it (at the time of this writing) the longest strike in WGA history. This directly impacted countless films and TV shows, including Nightmare on Elm Street 4 (which crapped out its first script in 7 days) and Halloween 4 (which at least had 11 days to finish its script).
4. There was originally going to be an opening scene explaining how Dr. Loomis survived that explosion
Seeing Halloween II with friends was one of Alan McElroy’s most cherished filmgoing memories. So, when he was given the opportunity to resurrect the shape his initial instinct was to at least honor the continuity and explain how Dr. Loomis survived. He wrote an opening scene set in the Halloween II hospital showing Dr. Loomis being blown out of a room as a result of the impact of that film’s explosive finale. This opening was never filmed, though.
Director Dwight Little explains why:
We decided only to reference the first movie. I think the reason was we didn’t want to get tied up with a lot of logic police questions with Michael and exactly what happened to Dr. Loomis. Alan studied it very carefully. So we knew that if we hit any landmines or made any big mistakes he’d catch it. But I didn’t really want to be influenced, artistically, by anything other than Halloween 1.
5. Donald Pleasence’s girlfriend shamed them into altering his make-up on the fly
Of course, they couldn’t completely ignore the sequels. They had to do something to acknowledge the improbability of Dr. Loomis’ survival. So, they compromised and gave him some burn scars on his hand and the right side of his face. Then they had to scramble halfway through production when Pleasence’s girlfriend watched some of the dailies with him and rather bluntly, but accurately blurted out, “Look, Donald, you’ve got an egg on the side of your face!” It was one of those “once seen can’t be unseen” moments, and from that point forward the makeup needed to be toned down. They refilmed all of the scenes they needed to, yet an editing error resulted in some of the old footage making it into the finished film, which is why his scars seem to change from shot to shot in certain scenes.
6. Gather ‘round to hear the tale of the Michael Myers mask
You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to recreate the Michael Myers mask, yet every sequel has seemed progressively challenged to do so. Halloween II at least had the benefit of getting to reuse one of the original masks, although it had been unnaturally aged by prolonged exposure to cigarette smoke by that point. Halloween IV had to start from scratch, and as the film’s makeup technician, Ken Horn, recalls in Anchor Bay’s Back to the Basics: Making of Halloween 4:
“I worked at Don Post studios, and we made the original mask they used for Halloween. One of the [Halloween 4] producers brought a mask out for me. It was pink with white hair. And I thought, ‘That isn’t quite the mask, but we’ll work around it.’ So, I got hired. I asked, Don Post, Jr., when he redid for us, to use the Shatner mold because we wanted the actual true face. I didn’t get a chance to see those masks until we actually got on set. I opened the box and there were six of them. They were all pink with white hair. I was going, ‘This is not right. This is supposed to be white with brown hair.’ I told the producer this should be changed.”
Horn, of course, was charged with making those changes, and while he did his best not all of the masks were fixed. That’s why Michael suddenly seems to have a pink face and blonde hair during the school scene when he throws Loomis through the door. Director Dwight Little chalks the mistake up to a late night, tired crew and lack of funds to fix it in post once the mask mix-up had finally been noticed.
7. A Fangoria writer saved the makeup technician’s job
Sticking with Ken Horn’s Back to the Basics: Making of Halloween 4 interview, the Michael Myers mask was continually altered throughout production, mostly at the behest of the producers who knew enough to know the mask they had didn’t look like the one John Carpenter and Debra Hill got to play with. So, one day in-between takes a producer asked Horn to make the mask’s eyes bigger, and he explained, “There’s no way I can widen the eyes and change the filter within three minutes of when we’re filming because if we do the glue would be fresh and Tom [Morga] underneath it would actually faint and fall over and kill himself.”
Morga backed Horn up, and the producer relented. There was no time to safely make the change that day. However, that was the final straw for the producer, who later fired Horn in front of the entire crew. What he forgot, though, is a Fangoria writer was visiting the set that day. Moreover, this writer knew Horn and was sympathetic to the stress he was under. So, went to the producer with an ultimatum: either rehire Horn immediately or Fangoria will do nothing to help promote the movie. Horn quickly got his job back. Morga, on the other hand, was eventually fired for good and replaced with George Wilbur.
That’s Hollywood for ya’. Horn had seen enough, though. After Halloween 4, he retired from working on movies.
8. The neighbors called the cops out of concern for Danielle Harris
For the first time in franchise history, filming ventured outside of California (due to rising production costs) and ended up in Salt Lake City, Utah where the residents weren’t quite used to the artifice of a film production. As Danielle Harris reveals in 25 Years of Terror, when her character runs through the town screaming for help someone legitimately called the cops, “I was banging on doors, yelling for someone to help me, help me, after I got lost trick or treating or something. So, 4 o’clock in the morning, they’re hearing a little screaming up the streets, and someone called the cops. The cops came. Then the story ended up in The Inquirer that I was almost kidnapped off of the set.”
9. Much of the gore was added through reshoots
Similar to Halloween 2, Return was originally made in the mostly bloodless spirit of the original. Then the producers freaked out and demanded more gore. So, suddenly Michael needed to stick his thumb through someone’s head, rip another guy’s throat out and crowbar someone to death. Moustapha Akkad, famously squeamish about blood in real-life, was on set for the reshoots shouting, “More blood, more blood, more blood.”
- BOX OFFICE: $17.7m domestic
- BUDGET: $5m
- CONTEXT: Halloween 4 pulled off the rare horror movie treat of not only opening at #1 but staying there in its second weekend. Because of that, there’s this impression the movie was a massive hit. It wasn’t. Its total was a 30% decrease from the last Michael Myers movie, Halloween II, despite costing 50% more to make. Moreover, Michael’s grand return couldn’t beat Jason’s seventh movie (New Blood grossed $19m that year) and wasn’t even in the same league as Freddy’s fourth movie (Dream Master grossed $49m in ‘88). But, hey, at least Return was more popular than other ‘88 horror sequels like Poltergeist 3 ($14m) and Hellraiser 2 ($12m).
- INFLATION: With the benefit of 2017 ticket prices, Halloween 4 would have grossed $38m, which is The Boy ($35m)/Ouija: Origin of Evil (also $35m) territory for today’s horror movies.
Next time, I’ll tell you about how close they came to killing or at least seriously injuring poor little Danielle Harris in Halloween 5: The Curse of Michael Myers.
If you liked this also check out my prior trivia lists about the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, and you can always circle back around to see my other Halloween trivia articles.
Any corrections or questions? Let me know in the comments.