Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
For the screenshots and the review of the previous Anchor Bay DiviMax DVD, click here.
Considering that the 80s were a boom for the slasher subgenre it seems a strange quirk of fate that the series that launched the craze, Halloween, was largely absent during the height of this era. It got a sequel in 1981, but the end of that film seemed like a definitive nail in the coffin of serial killer Michael Myers. In his absence, Jason Voorhees (and later, Freddy Krueger) stepped up to the plate to help satisfy young audience’s appetite for carnage and bloodshed.
Seeing the untold millions that the Friday and Nightmare franchises were raking in at the box office it was only a matter of time before the Halloween series was resurrected. After the audience rejection of the Halloween-themed, but Myers-free, third installment there was only one possible course for the fourth film: big Mike would have to return to Haddonfield.
1988 and 1989 both saw new films in each of the “big three” horror franchises. Unfortunately, the moment had passed and while they generally made enough to justify their existence, their lackluster performance signaled that the slasher boom had run its course for the time being. In another quirk of destiny, The Return of Michael Myers would mark the beginning of the end for the slasher genre.
It’s been ten years since Michael Myers’ reign of terror was ended abruptly by doctor Loomis. Despite being at the epicenter of an explosion that virtually leveled a hospital, both Loomis and Michael are still alive (more than a bit of a stretch, but hey, I’ll go with it). Michael Myers has been languishing in a coma and on life support at the Ridgemont Federal Sanitarium (fitting metaphor, actually) under the care of the curmudgeonly Dr. Hoffman (Michael Pataki), while Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) has been haunting the halls of Ridgemont, presumably even wilder eyed and crazier than he was by the end of Halloween II.
After an ill-fated transfer on October 30th (seriously, guys? You couldn’t keep him under lock and key for two more days?) sees Michael back in Haddonfield, with Loomis in hot pursuit. Joining our reliable series standbys for this go-round is the new object of Michael’s knife-happy tendencies: his niece Jamie (fan favorite Danielle Harris, in her film debut), along with her foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) and Haddonfield’s new Sheriff, Ben Meeker (Beau Starr). When the town is plunged into darkness, Meeker, Loomis and the girls board themselves up in the sheriff’s home along with his daughter Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont) Rachel’s two timing boyfriend Brady (Sasha Jenson) and a hapless deputy, hoping to hold out until the state police arrive to deal with Myers. The ever crafty Michael draws the girl’s protectors away from the sanctuary and then closes in for the kill. Slashings, impalement by shotgun, a car chase and a blonde-haired Michael ensues, capped off with Michael’s seemingly final end at the bottom of an abandoned well. Even with Michael vanquished (at least for the time being), all is still not well in Haddonfield. As the film ends, it seems that evil runs in the family and little Jamie is set up to take the reigns of resident underage clown costumed murderer from her dear old uncle.
It’s a serviceable a plot as you’d expect from a slasher sequel. Fans don’t watch these movies for the blazing originality of the writing and in Halloween 4, audiences get what they expect. Screenwriter Alan B. McElroy echoes a lot of the same beats from the original film, but it lacks the freshness and finesse of Carpenter’s masterpiece. To his and director Dwight Little’s credit, there is an admirable effort to emphasize suspense over gore at a time when audiences were awash in seas of cinematic viscera. The problem is that Little is simply not a suspense director. His aptitude lays more in the action genre, and the best moments in Halloween 4 are the ones that rely on action (the roof scene and the climax on the highway) rather than the slow build of suspense.
The franchise moves for the first time from the wide Panavision compositions of Dean Cundey to the more cramped 1:85 frame. The result is a film that looks flat, dull and occasionally like a TV-movie-of-the-week. Luckily, Little and cinematographer Peter Collister throw some pink or blue lights in the background every now and then to assure us we’re watching a theatrical feature. I’m sure the move to the smaller frame was a budgetary issue but, in retrospect, it would have been wiser to splurge a bit on the cinematography and skimp a bit on some of the action set pieces. The original didn’t need car chases or a firing squad or state troopers to weave its magic.
The cast is mostly serviceable, with a couple of notable exceptions. Too bad Donald Pleasance isn’t one of them. His presence here almost feels like an afterthought. He’s unceremoniously introduced (with no explanation given for his survival) after all the other characters and plotlines have been established and the screenplay drops him almost entirely out of the second half of the film. He’s not given much in the way of juicy dialogue and though his scenery chewing is fun to watch, there simply isn’t enough of it.
While the radical shift in focus away Loomis is a bit of a disappointment, at least the actors the film does focus on are able to carry it. I’m talking, of course, about Ellie Cornell and (especially) Danielle Harris. Cornell is great in crafting an instantly likable and sympathetic heroine, and there aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to hammer home just what a discovery young Harris was. With her expressive eyes, petite frame and gentle demeanor she is an instantly likable heroine. In scenes where she’s being pursued by the maniacal killer, she can scream with the best scream queens. The chemistry she has with Ellie Cornell is apparent from their first scene together and their dynamic buys the film a lot of currency. Harris gives an amazing performance and would go on to give an even better one a year later in the follow up, The Revenge of Michael Myers.
I can’t really talk about Halloween 4 without mentioning the ending. By now everybody knows that as credits roll on Halloween 4, a blood-soaked Jamie is poised to pick up where he uncle left off. It’s a bizarre choice in light of two things: first, that the series had already tried to steer itself in a Myers-free direction and was soundly rebuked by fans for it. Second, that almost this exact same setup was used, and to a certain extent followed up on, in the Friday the 13th series. Again, fans rebuked the new direction and the creative team promptly dropped the whole idea of Tommy taking up the mantle of masked serial murderer. Jamie is a sweet and innocent little girl we’ve spent an entire film caring about; to have her turn around and go psycho for the sake of a shock ending is pretty cheap. Akkad himself must have realized his mistake since Part 5 backs away from taking the series down that path, though the alternate path it starts to follow...well, that’s a whole other can of worms for a different day.
Halloween 4 makes its debut on Blu-ray sporting a transfer sourced from the same master as the 2006 Divimax release. The color timing is consistent with previous home video versions. It’s a tad cooler than it should be; it doesn’t have the same autumnal glow that the theatrical release did. Colors are strong, maybe a bit too strong. In the opening credit sequence a large patch of green grass jumps off the screen, destroying the autumn atmosphere so integral to a Halloween movie. Halloween 4 could really use a new transfer with color timing supervised by the cinematographer.
Artistic quibbles aside, the picture does look good. Grain is solid and present throughout, but never obtrusive. Blacks are strong without ever obscuring detail, which is doubly impressive considering the large number of murky or candle-lit scenes. Detail is very strong, though a mixed blessing since it occasionally reveals the seams around the makeup effects. While the source material isn’t pristine, there aren’t any serious flaws or compression issues to detract from the presentation. Aside from my issues with the coloring, I can’t imagine Halloween 4 looking any better than it does here; it’s simply not a terribly visually dynamic film to begin with.
Halloween 4’s previous 5.1 track has been upgraded to Dolby True HD, through you’ll be hard pressed to tell the difference. The volume levels are slightly higher and the sound is slightly sharper but this is the same front heavy mix that we’ve been listening to for years.
What’s not included in this release is the original 2.0 audio, nor any alternate language tracks. The latter I can understand, but not including the original audio track on a Blu-ray is an egregious sin of omission. If it could fit on an 8gb DVD it most certainly can fit on a 25gb Blu-ray.
The sole new supplement for this release is an audio commentary with director Dwight H. Little and Justin Beahm, author of “Halloween – The Complete Authorized History.” Beahm does a good job of keeping the commentary lively, prodding Little with questions when the track goes silent and the two quickly establish a good rapport. So entertaining is this track that I didn’t notice until after it concluded just how thin on new information it was.
Returning from the previous Divimax release is the audio commentary with actors Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris. Their on screen chemistry hasn’t diminished one iota in the fifteen or so years from the time they made the movie to when they recorded the commentary.
The footage from the Halloween 4 and 5 panel discussion (18:28) from the 25 Years of Terror convention is also ported over. This looks suspiciously like it was shot by a fan of Danielle Harris; the camera lingers on her even when others are talking. Is there a reason they couldn’t have included newer footage shot from the 30 Years of Terror convention? Maybe something shot by someone with a modicum of professional experience?
Rounding out the supplemental package is the same theatrical trailer (1:36) that was included on previous releases, looking about as good as it did there.
Not ported over from the Divimax disc is the documentary Halloween 4: Final Cut, so die hard fans are going to have to hold on to their old DVDs. For once I’d like a catalogue re-issue to be a true upgrade from the previous release instead of an exercise in horse trading, asking fans to sacrifice supplements for picture quality. Add to that the absence of 30 minutes of deleted scenes from the initial press release and you have a supplemental package that’s a big disappointment.
Halloween 4 a respectable return to the silver screen for the maniac that started it all.
The plot is boilerplate, the direction competent. Only the chemistry between Harris and Cornell and pretty spectacular shot of Kathleen Kinmont in a lacy, cross-you-heart bra really stand out. Return is neither the best nor the worst the series has seen, and this disc is neither the best nor worst HD re-issue the genre, or even this particular series, has seen. It’s decent although it has some glaring errors and omissions. All told, it’s good enough, but I imagine that for die-hard fans “good enough” isn’t nearly good enough.
Good review, Chunk. I find it interesting that Anchor Bay have chosen to emblazon "Moustapha Akkad Presents" across the cover, when I've never seen that on any other version of the artwork for this film. My guess is that's due to the negative reaction Universal received when they removed his credit from the beginning of Halloween II. I have nothing for or against Akkad, and he should get his credit where it's due, but this seems a little out of place and unnecessary. Curious.
This one has always been a sort of favorite stepping aside from the brilliance of the original. The review was top notch and I think right on point. Thanks.
Hey Blunkchower. How about some side by side comparisons with the DVD, negro?
I've never understood the love for this one, I've always found it dull and rather cheap. This is one of my least favorite of the sequels.
I haven't rewatched this film recently, but I agree with YottNik. The acting especially was terrible from just about everyone and I didn't feel anything for Harris's character. They really thought they were milking her awkwardness in the family for something that made you more afraid for her later on. Nope. I remember the ending being quite interesting, though.
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