As the title suggests, this film marks the return of Michael Myers after being absent in the previous installment, Season of the Witch. Initially, John Carpenter and co-producer Debra Hill retired the Michael Myers storyline after the second installment of the series, intending to feature a new Halloween-season-related plot every sequel, of which Halloween III would be the first. Halloween 4 was originally intended to be a ghost story; however, due to the disappointing financial performance of the third film, Halloween 4 reintroduced Michael Myers.
Four more sequels to the original followed, released in 1989, 1995, 1998 and 2002 before the series was rebooted in 2007.
On October 30, 1988, Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur), who has been in a coma for ten years, is transferred to Smith's Grove Sanitarium by ambulance. Upon hearing that he has a niece, Michael awakens, kills the ambulance personnel, and makes his way to Haddonfield. Michael's former psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), learns of Michael's escape and gives chase. He follows Michael to a gas station, where he has killed a mechanic for his clothes, along with a clerk and disabled the phones. Michael then escapes in a tow truck and causes an explosion, destroying Loomis's car in the process. Loomis is then forced to catch a ride to Haddonfield.
Meanwhile, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), the daughter of Laurie Strode and Michael's niece, is living in Haddonfield with her foster family, Richard and Darlene Carruthers, and their teenage daughter, Rachel (Ellie Cornell). Jamie knows about Michael, but she is unaware he is the strange man she has been having nightmares about. Richard and Darlene head out for the night and leave Rachel to look after Jamie, causing her to miss her date with her boyfriend Brady (Sasha Jenson). After school, Rachel takes Jamie to buy ice cream and a Halloween costume. At that point, Michael has already arrived in Haddonfield, and nearly attacks Jamie in the store.
That night, as Rachel takes Jamie trick-or-treating, Michael goes to the electrical substation and kills a worker by throwing him into high voltage equipment, plunging the town into darkness. Meanwhile, Loomis arrives in Haddonfield and warns Sheriff Ben Meeker (Beau Starr) that Michael has returned. Michael attacks the police station and kills all of the officers. A lynch mob is formed by the town's men to kill Michael. Rachel discovers Brady cheating on her with Sheriff Meeker's daughter Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont), and loses track of Jamie. After being chased by Michael, Rachel finds Jamie.
Sheriff Meeker and Loomis arrive and take the girls to Meeker's house with Brady, Kelly, and a deputy. They barricade the house, and Loomis departs to look for Michael. With Sheriff Meeker in the basement awaiting the arrival of the state police, Michael sneaks in and kills the deputy and Kelly. Discovering the bodies, Rachel, Jamie, and Brady realize they are trapped in the house. Rachel and Jamie flee to the attic when Michael appears, but Brady stays to fend him off and is killed. The girls climb through a window onto the roof and Jamie is lowered down safely, but Michael attacks Rachel and knocks her off the roof.
Pursued by Michael, Jamie runs down the street and finds Loomis. They take shelter in the school, but Michael appears and subdues Loomis before chasing Jamie through the building. Jamie trips and falls down a flight of stairs. Before Michael can kill her, Rachel, who survived the fall, subdues him with a fire extinguisher. The lynch mob and the state police arrive at the school after hearing the alarm go off. The lynch mob agrees to take Jamie and Rachel to the next town in a pickup truck. However, Michael, hiding underneath the truck, climbs aboard and kills the men. Rachel is forced to drive, continuously attempting to throw Michael off. She succeeds in doing so and then rams him with the truck, sending him flying into a ditch near an abandoned mine. Sheriff Meeker, Loomis, and the police arrive, but when Jamie approaches Michael and touches his hand, he rises. The police relentlessly shoot Michael until he falls down the mine, where he is presumed dead.
Jamie and Rachel are taken home, and Darlene and Richard, who have arrived home, console the girls. As Darlene goes upstairs to run Jamie a bath, she is suddenly attacked by Jamie, who is overcome with Michael's rage. Loomis hears Darlene's screams and sees Jamie standing at the top of the stairs, wearing a clown mask, holding a pair of scissors in her hand and stained with blood. He screams out as Rachel, Richard, and Sheriff Meeker stare in horror.
After Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Moustapha Akkad wanted to move further with the series, and bring back Michael Myers. Producer Paul Freeman, a friend of Akkad with a long list of credits to his name, explained to Fangoria magazine in 1988 that everybody came out of Halloween III saying, "Where's Michael?" John Carpenter was approached by Cannon Films, who had just finished 1986's release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, to write and direct Halloween 4. Debra Hill planned to produce the film, while Carpenter teamed up with Dennis Etchison who, under the pseudonym Jack Martin, had written novelizations of both Halloween II (1981) and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) to write a script to Halloween 4. Originally, Joe Dante was Carpenter's choice for director on the project itself.
However, Akkad rejected the Etchison script, calling it "too cerebral" and insisting that any new Halloween sequel must feature Myers as a flesh and blood killer. In an interview, Etchison explained how he received the phone call informing him of the rejection of his script. Etchison said, "I received a call from Debra Hill and she said, 'Dennis, I just wanted you to know that John and I have sold our interest in the title 'Halloween' and unfortunately, your script was not part of the deal."
Carpenter and Hill had signed all of their rights away to Akkad, who gained ownership. Akkad said, "I just went back to the basics of Halloween on Halloween 4 and it was the most successful." As Carpenter refused to continue his involvement with the series, a new director was sought out. Dwight H. Little, a native of Ohio, replaced Carpenter. Little had previously directed episodes for Freddy's Nightmares and the film Bloodstone.
On February 25, 1988, writer Alan B. McElroy, a Cleveland, Ohio native, was brought in to the write the script for Halloween 4. The writer's strike was to begin on March 7, 1988. This forced McElroy to develop a concept, pitch the story, and send in the final draft in under eleven days. McElroy came up with the idea of Brittany "Britti" Lloyd, Laurie Strode's daughter, to be chased by her uncle, who has escaped from Ridgemont after being in a coma for ten years. Dr. Samuel Loomis, who has also survived the fiery explosion at the end of Halloween II, goes looking for Michael with Sheriff Meeker. The setting of the place was once again Haddonfield, Illinois. The character of Laurie Strode was revealed to have died in a car accident, leaving Britti with the Carruthers family, which included Rachel, the family's seventeen-year-old daughter. Britti's name was later changed to Jamie, a homage to Laurie Strode actress Jamie Lee Curtis.
McElroy told Fangoria:
When I first saw the original, I was dating a girl and took her to a theater in Boston to see it. We were the only ones in the place, but she was climbing all over me. When Halloween II came out, I got completely blitzed and saw it, and I had the best time. So when the director, Dwight Little, asked me to write the script, I jumped at the chance. Here I was going to bring the Shape — Michael Myers — back to life. It's a piece of film history. He's truly an icon.
In the original draft, Sheriff Ben Meeker was to be killed during the Shape's attack on the Meeker house. A fire would have started in the basement and burnt down the entire house. The scene on top of the roof with the Shape, Rachel, and Jamie was supposed to be engulfed in flames. This was cut due to budget issues. A more "soap opera" feel was added to the film, which included the triangle of the teenagers and their relationship situations. Rachel is dating Brady, who is also having sex with Kelly Meeker. In addition, in the finale, Jamie was originally intended to have murdered her foster mother, Darlene Carruthers, while drawing the bath, and become evil. This idea was rejected for Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989).
The cast of Halloween 4 included only one actor from the first two films, Donald Pleasence, who reprised his role as Samuel Loomis, Michael Myers' psychiatrist. Before McElroy's script was chosen, the producers asked Jamie Lee Curtis to reprise her role as Laurie Strode, the original's heroine. Curtis had become a success in the film industry and had established a career with her roles in films like Trading Places (1983) and A Fish Called Wanda (1988). Curtis declined and did not want to continue her participation in the film, although she did return for Halloween H20 (1998). As a result, her character was written out and supposedly died in a car accident, which is briefly explained in the film.
The script introduced Laurie Strode's seven-year-old daughter, Jamie Lloyd. Melissa Joan Hart had auditioned for the role, among various other girls. Up against her was Danielle Harris, who had previously starred in One Life to Live as Samantha Garretson. Rebecca Schaeffer had auditioned for the role of Rachel Carruthers, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. Twenty-three-year-old Ellie Cornell had also auditioned. Cornell had chosen to audition for Halloween 4 and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) as the role of Kristen Parker, after Patricia Arquette had declined to return as Kristen. Cornell chose Halloween 4 and successfully landed the role of Rachel. Beau Starr was cast as the new Sheriff, Ben Meeker, replacing Sheriff Lee Brackett (Charles Cyphers), and Kathleen Kinmont was cast as the Sheriff's daughter, Kelly. George P. Wilbur was cast to play Michael Myers.
Principal photography began on April 11, 1988. Instead of filming in Pasadena, California (the original filming location and stand in for Haddonfield) due to high-rising costs, filming took place in Salt Lake City, Utah. As filming was taking place in March, during springtime, the producers were forced to import leaves and big squash, which they would use to create pumpkins by painting them orange, which was also done during the filming of the original Halloween. "One of the obvious challenges in making a part four of anything is to interest a contemporary audience in old characters and themes," said director Dwight H. Little. "What I'm trying to do is capture the mood of the original Halloween and yet take a lot of new chances. What we're attempting to do is walk a fine line between horror and mystery. Halloween 4 will not be an ax-in-the-forehead kind of movie." Paul Freeman agreed. "This film does contain some humorous moments, but it's not of the spoof or send-up variety. It's humor that rises out of the film's situations and quickly turns back into terror."
George P. Wilbur, who was cast as Michael Myers for this film, wore hockey pads under the costume to make himself look more physically imposing. During filming, the cast and crew made it a point to take it easy on Danielle Harris, as she was only a young child at the time, and made sure that she was not scared too badly and knew that none of it was real; to this end, Wilbur regularly removed the mask in front of her in order to remind her that it was just a movie and he was not going to hurt her.
The late night scenes caused issues with the cast. Garlan Wilde, a gaffer for the film, was injured during the scene between Brady and the Shape when he dropped a light and accidentally slit his wrists. He was rushed to the hospital. In addition, while filming the rooftop scene, Ellie Cornell cut her stomach open on a large nail while sliding down the roof, though she continued filming the scene despite losing a sizable amount of blood. During most of the night scenes, Donald Pleasence became so cold that he wore a hat for most of the scenes, unbeknownst to the crew. This caused over six hours of footage to be re-shot. The shoot lasted about 41 days and Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris were required to be on set for 36 of those days.
During filming, it was considered that the customized 1975 Captain Kirk mask be reused for this film. However, the mask was long gone and a new one was purchased from a local costume shop. The producers wanted to test and see what it would look like without the edits. The school scene was filmed and when reviewing the producers did not like how the mask turned out. It was allegedly customized again but did not live up to the original, and the producers felt it was too old and went for a new mask. Some scenes had to be re-shot with the new mask. The only scene left in is when Loomis is thrown through a glass door; as Michael comes up behind him, the unaltered face and blonde hair is visible.
After viewing the film's rough cut, director Dwight H. Little and producer Moustapha Akkad decided that the film's violence was too soft, and so an extra day of "blood filming" commenced. Special effects make-up artist John Carl Buechler (director of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood) was brought in to create the thumb in the forehead kill and neck-twisting of the redneck seen in the film's final cut.
The score was performed by Alan Howarth, who had assisted John Carpenter on Halloween II and Halloween III. Howarth gained approval from Dwight H. Little before he could accept the offer, creating a new score that referenced the original's but with a synthesizer twist. Howarth also included new tracks such as "Jamie's Nightmare", "Return of the Shape", and "Police Station". The soundtrack was released to Compact Disc on September 28, 1988.
Halloween 4 opened in 1,679 theaters on October 21, 1988 and grossed $6,831,250 in its opening weekend, achieving a total domestic gross of $17,768,757 in the United States, becoming the fifth best performing film in the Halloween series. The film received negative critical reception. It currently has a score of 43 on Metacritic, which indicates mixed or average reviews; on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a "rotten" score of 29% based on 24 reviews.
Halloween 4 was nominated for two Saturn Awards by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for Best Horror Film and Best Writing in 1990.
The film was first released on VHS in May 1989 as a rental title by CBS/FOX home entertainment. It was made available for sell-through in October 1989 to coincide with the theatrical release of Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. In 2006, Anchor Bay Entertainment released special editions of this film and its sequel for DVD. Supplements include the Halloween 4/5 panel at the Return to Haddonfield convention, theatrical trailer, Halloween 4 Final Cut – a "behind-the-scenes" documentary, a commentary with Danielle Harris and Ellie Cornell, and another commentary by Alan B. McElroy and Anthony Masi. Halloween 4, along with Halloween 5, and a Blu-ray, standard DVD and extended edition of Halloween, was released with the first disc of the documentary, Halloween: 25 Years of Terror, and The Shape's mask in 2008 in a limited 30th anniversary box set of the first film. The film was released on Blu-ray in Germany on May 4, 2012, in the US on August 21, 2012, in the UK on October 15, 2012 and in the Australia on October 2, 2013.
To tie in with the film's release, a novelization by Nicholas Grabowsky was published, containing 224 pages. The novel closely follows the film's events, with a few alterations. In 2003, the novel was re-issued with new material and cover art, titled Halloween IV: The Special Limited Edition.In the 1992 film My Cousin Vinny, James Rebhorn's character's name was "George Wilber" which was an homage to George P. Wilbur who played Michael Myers in Halloween 4.
In the 1997 Steven Spielberg film The Lost World: Jurassic Park, VHS copies of Halloween 4 and 5 are seen in a video store during the scene where the tyrannosaurus is running loose in San Diego.
In the Family Guy episode "Tom Tucker: The Man and His Dream", the character Tom Tucker is revealed to have played Michael Myers in Halloween 4 under the stage name George P. Wilbur.
In the South Park episode "A Nightmare on Face Time", Randy breaks into the bedroom of two girls watching Halloween 4 on Netflix.