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When the producers of the Halloween franchise decided to abandon original director John Carpenter's anthology approach following 1982's Halloween III: Season of the Witch and return to the story of implacable killer Michael Myers, they needed a new main character for Michael to menace, as star Jamie Lee Curtis had no interest in returning as Laurie Strode. And while 1988's Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers features several naive teenagers in the vein of Laurie and her friends from the original movie, its real protagonist is 7-year-old Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), introduced as Laurie's daughter (and thus Michael's niece). Things only get weirder from there.
Halloween 4 is, to put it gently, not a very good movie. It's mostly concerned with evoking memories of Carpenter's far-superior original in order to bring fans back into the fold. It marks Michael's transition from a deranged murderer into a full-on supervillain, able to kill people by jamming his thumb into their skulls or ramming a shotgun barrel through their chests.
But if anything about the movie works, it works thanks to Harris' performance as Jamie, a little girl haunted by a family legacy that was established entirely before she was born. Laurie (along with Jamie's nameless father) died in a car accident that's barely mentioned, and the cruel kids at school all taunt Jamie for having an uncle who's "the boogeyman."
Michael, of course, escapes from custody during a transfer from the mental institution where he's been locked up for the past decade, and, of course, he heads right back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, pursued by the increasingly unhinged Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence). A chatty prison guard helpfully mentions Jamie's existence just before Michael roars back to life and kills his captors. And although Jamie has never met Michael, she's still tortured by his existence. She sees his face in the mirror and has nightmares about him coming for her. The movie makes it clear that Michael and Jamie are inextricably linked, and Harris makes that link feel disturbing and genuine.
While the teenage victims in the Halloween movies and the overall slasher genre are often being "punished" for their deviant behavior (sex, drug use, general obnoxiousness), Jamie is presented as pure and decent, and Harris, with her wide brown eyes and eager sense of wonder, makes Jamie easy to root for. For Jamie, just going trick-or-treating on Halloween is a triumph, a way to defeat the forces that have pushed to define her life by a murderer she's never even met.
"Halloween's great! Can we stay out all night?" she asks her foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell), with honest amazement.
In the world of the Halloween movies, though, Halloween is not great, and it's not long before Jamie is running in terror from Michael, dressed in a harlequin-style costume similar to the one young Michael wore when he killed his parents and sister. The movie teases Jamie's connection to Michael with her mirror visions (including of herself as young Michael in that same costume), and Jamie even tenderly holds Michael's hand at one point when he's lying on the ground, seemingly dead (Michael, obviously, is never actually dead).
But none of that quite prepares the audience for the final scene, after Michael has supposedly been vanquished for good.
Up until that point, most of the movie's WTF Moments have come from baffling storytelling choices, absurdly exaggerated violence, and blatant continuity errors (check out the ever-changing burn scar on Loomis' face!). But director Dwight H. Little ends the movie with a true shocker: As her foster mother prepares her a bath, Jamie pulls her costume's mask down over her face, walks down the hall, grabs a pair of scissors, and uses them to stab the woman who raised her.
Little depicts the sequence in the same point-of-view style as the opening of Carpenter's original movie, clearly meant to equate the previously sweet and innocent Jamie with a homicidal maniac. She emerges, covered in blood, as Loomis points his gun at her, just as he would at Michael, barely being restrained from killing her. Roll credits.
Harris pulls off that sudden shift just as well as she does all of Jamie's other emotions, from fear to elation to melancholy. She does the same in the following year's Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, which downplays Jamie's murderous turn in favor of putting her in a clinic for mentally disturbed children and gives her a silly psychic connection to Michael that manifests in convulsions and gesticulations. But the core of Harris' wistful performance remains intact, even amid the story's rampant idiocy.
Jamie is treated even more poorly in 1995's Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, where she's played by a different actress and killed off in the first act. And thanks to the retcons of both 1998's Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and director David Gordon Green's 2018 Halloween, she's been excised from series continuity completely. Rob Zombie at least appreciated Harris' skill, casting her in a different role in his remake duology.
Still, Jamie stands as an unsung hero of some of the uneven franchise's lowest moments. Maybe some enterprising filmmaker needs to make a direct sequel to Halloweens 4 and 5, giving Jamie (and Harris) the ending she deserves.