In the fall of 1988 the Halloween saga continued with the eagerly anticipated Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Part 4 is a handsome, well-written entry that lacks the original's taught suspense. It does, however, manage a consistent, eerie tone and nice performances from its leads.
The story picks up ten years after the explosion at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital (in Part 2) where it was made very clear that boogey man Michael Myers was dead. But, as everyone knows, "you can't kill the boogey man…" and so it turns out that Myers (here played by George P. Wilbur) has been in a coma at a federal sanitarium all these years. Evidently the same rule that applies to boogey men, also applies to obsessed psychiatrists as Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is also very much alive after that fateful blast and… still concerned about his patient.
Inexplicably, through a "state mandate" on October 30 (timing is everything) Myers is to be transported from the federal institution back to Smith's Grove. While in transit, a paramedic foolishly mentions that Myers' only living relative is a young niece living in Haddonfield. This news prompts the quick recovery of the comatose psychopath - who immediately dispatches the paramedics before making yet another trip "home."
The next morning - Halloween - Dr. Loomis arrives at the crime scene as police sift through the wreckage of the ambulance. Finding no sign of Myers, he intuitively sets out for the small Illinois town. Once back in Haddonfield, we learn that the unfortunate Laurie Strode (a sorely missed Jamie Lee Curtis) died in a car accident and that her daughter Jamie ([i]Danielle Harris[i/]) has been taken in by the Carruthers, a goodly foster family. Jamie's teenage foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) has reluctantly agreed to baby sit the youngster while their parents go off to some important (and convenient) office party. This puts a damper on Rachel's date with high school hunk Brady (Sasha Jenson) - but allows for a small subplot with the jilted boyfriend and the sheriff's daughter Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont). (They supply the necessary T&A and keep the body count high).
This time out, Loomis has little resistance from the sheriff (Beau Starr) as Myers quickly massacres the entire police department . The quick-as-lightening boogey man also finds time to kill a power station employee (while at the same time rendering the entire town without electricity) before continuing in his quest to "off" his niece.
Although the set-up is fairly straightforward, the literate screenplay by Alan B. McElroy often plays against expectation and allows the characters to make rational, realistic decisions throughout. For instance, Sheriff Meeker and Loomis are able to locate the foster sisters before Myers and immediately sequester them. Word gets out about the psychopath and vigilantes go out and look for him. Plausible events all - even if the vigilante subplot is a bit distracting.
Rachel and Jamie are taken back to the Sheriff's house until reinforcements can arrive. Of course Myers finds his way to the hideout where all of the young principals are subsequently terrorized. A few harrowing scenarios follow including an intense roof top confrontation and a great shock ending.
Halloween 4 is considered by many fans to be the best of all the sequels, though this is faint praise, indeed. It was obviously written with great affection for the original as characters and locations from the Carpenter classic have been faithfully included. Writer McElroy even pays homage to the first film with smart story parallels and in- jokes. Young Jamie is obviously named after actress Curtis; the choosing of the clown costume; the sheriff's wild daughter… all of these are nice touches. Appreciated all the more when compared to the lazy, slapdash script for Part 5.
Director Dwight H. Little (and director of photography Peter Lyons Collister) also do a great job of setting a moody tone; especially during the first half hour. The wonderful credit sequence with shots of Haddonfield farm country decorated for the season is appropriately foreboding and Loomis' first confrontation with Myers at a truck stop is also quite creepy. Little also gets some great performances out of his cast. Harris is surprisingly good as the tormented youngster and Pleasance, as always, gives the film a needed sense of urgency.
On the negative side, while Little has created a strong atmosphere, his suspense sequences are pretty disappointing. He and D.P. Collister seem to have a problem shooting Myers. Aside from the awkward costuming (the Shape needs shoulder pads?), the prolific psycho often gets lost in the Poltergeist closet. Lots of '80's-style fog, gels and light rays… more distracting than scary. There is also a sequence in a grade school that feels more like a Bergman meditation than a Carpenter thriller. It is, however, a very satisfying film, much more so than the mean-spirited (and ponderous) Halloween 2.
Anchor Bay has done a wonderful job with Halloween 4's DVD release. It is presented letterboxed at 1.85:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The picture on this 14-year-old film is extremely clear with almost no sign of compression artifacts or scan lines. The image is extremely sharp and well defined, adding a much-needed urgency to the dark interior scenes - missing from the muddy VHS incarnation. DP Collister's imaginative use of lighting can now be fully appreciated as the color reproduction on this version is perfectly balanced. The vivid blues and oranges (which directly recall the first film) are very handsome and add much to the enjoyment of the film. It's the best this film has looked since its original release.
The sound was very clear if not exceptional. Alan Howarth's new compositions as well as Carpenter's unforgettable Halloween theme were captured well on the DD 5.1 track. Some of the dialogue and sound effects were a bit low but nothing too distracting. On the whole, the audio presentation was perfectly fine though something less than Anchor Bay's SE of Halloween.
Compared to Anchor Bay's Halloween 5 SE, this release is a bit disappointing. The SE tin, which is ten dollars more than the regular DVD, includes a four-page booklet but is the very same disc as the "non-collectable." The Halloween 4 DVD contains an interesting 17-minute documentary called "Final Cut" and includes interviews with Little and McElroy. They both seem to take great pride in their work and gladly discuss some of the behind-the-scenes processes. McElroy in particular notes how important it was for him that they return to the universe that Carpenter created in the original film. It seems that much of the success of Part 4 can be attributed to his obvious affection for the original. Little, who has recently directed a lot of episodic television including The Practice, also has some nice anecdotes about the cast and crew. The main problem, however, is that it's just too short to satisfy hardcore fans.
Also included is a nice-looking letterboxed version of the original trailer. You'd think that as popular as this film is they would have included, at the very least, director commentary. All in all, not much of a "special edition" but a fine looking transfer and a must for fans.
Though far from a special edition, this is a great-looking version of a strong little b-film that was much better than it had any right to be. Consistently eerie with a strong, coherent script, Halloween 4 is a flawed, fun addition to the never-ending Shape saga. The DVD release is a must for all fans of the film, though I'd bypass the so-called special edition tin.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - C
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