Ten years have passed since the Halloween night that he came back, and with that decade of distance, Michael Myers might as well be the boogeyman. He's a distant memory to the folks of Haddonfield: horribly
burned, comatose, and locked up in a sanitarium hours away. Schoolchildren swap jokes about him. The drug store in town even has that expressionless white mask back on the shelves in time for Halloween. Hell, though, why would Michael Myers come back to Haddonfield? His obsession with his sisters is over. One fell to his blade a quarter-century earlier; the other, Laurie Strode, escaped his relentless stalking only to die years later in a car crash. It turns out that Laurie left something behind, though: a young daughter named Jamie (Danielle Harris).
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It hasn't been easy for Jamie to settle into anything resembling a normal life, having lost her family and all too aware of what a soulless monster her uncle is. Her foster family does what they can for her, including her erstwhile older 'sister' Rachel (Ellie Cornell), but young Jamie is still tormented by nightmares of the ghostly figure that tried to butcher her mother years ago. This being a movie with the subtitle of "The Return of Michael Myers" and all, it sort of goes without saying that Jamie soon has a hell of a lot more to worry about than bad dreams.
With the obvious exception of the masterfully crafted film by John Carpenter that started it all, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is the only other movie in the long-running series that I legitimately like. Sure, sure, it's in no danger of being in the same league as Carpenter's Halloween, but I'd argue that part four comes closer than any other movie in the franchise has. It's the only other film in the series that establishes that same sort of autumnal atmosphere, beginning with that brilliant opening montage. Halloween 4's ominous score readily ranks as the best of the sequels. The film's approach to suspense draws more deeply from Carpenter's
playbook, unlike Halloweens II and V that were content to settle for routine, paint-by-numbers slashing.
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The returning Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) still bears the scars of his last encounter with Michael Myers, and having his battered body in place -- still spouting off all those apocalyptic monologues about the nature of evil -- is more than just connective tissue with the first two films in the franchise. It makes the world of Haddonfield feel more real...more lived-in...that there are consequences that linger and matter. Future scream queen Danielle Harris makes for a hell of a lead even at the tender age of ten, delivering a genuinely soulful, engaging performance. It's one of the best child-in-danger turns I've come across in a horror flick, slasher or otherwise. An early nightmare aside, Halloween 4 doesn't give viewers a good look at Michael Myers in his iconic mask until...what, the final 20 minutes or so? It's as if the movie takes some cues from Jaws in that sense, delivering a hell of a lot of tension and suspense without overexposing the soulless killing machine wreaking all this havoc. That final reel is unrelentingly brutal and intense too, culminating in a rooftop chase that's almost as unnerving as the claustrophobic closet sequence in Carpenter's original film. I wouldn't characterize Halloween 4 as a splatterfest, but it does pack a hefty body count and sloshes around plenty of the red stuff. Oh, and the twisted turn it promises for the future of the franchise...love it, love it, love it, even if it was ultimately discarded.
Really, Halloween 4 is a sharply constructed slasher, something I'm not able to say all that often despite a lifelong fascination with the subgenre. That's not to say the movie's flawless, though. Being a nitpicking fanboy, I have a hard time buying that someone as shy, studious, and virginal as Laurie Strode would have a kid right out of high school. Some of the dialogue creaks and groans. At one point, Loomis hitches a ride with a priest in a Fred Sanford truck who drunkenly rambles on about chasing evil, and it's pretty much the worst thing in the entire flick. Although I do find much to admire about the cinematography in Halloween 4, it just doesn't have that glossy, cinematic sheen that distinguished Halloween from the glut of slashers it inspired. I miss the very wide compositions, and this take on Michael Myers' mask isn't nearly as effective either. Despite its flaws, Halloween 4 is one of the best slashers from the late 1980s, standing out in an era when the subgenre was in steep decline. It's also a height the Halloween franchise would never reach again, beginning with the woefully uninspired Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers that quickly followed. Recommended.
This high-def release of Halloween 4 may leave some viewers wincing at the outset, but stick with it past the admittedly forgettable presentation of the opening titles, and you're in for one of the better looking genre flicks from the late '80s to find its way to Blu-ray. I don't have the DiviMax DVD that Anchor Bay put out in 2006 to do a direct comparison for you, but I do still have that decade-old limited edition tin handy (remember those?), and the differences are staggering.
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For one, the 2001 DVD is heavily zoomed in, losing quite a bit of the visual information revealed on this Blu-ray disc. The amount varies from shot-to-shot, but pop open the screenshot comparisons of Loomis peering into the wrecked ambulance to see how much can get lopped off on the DVD. That earlier release exhibits more wear and suffers from some annoying artificial sharpening, while the Blu-ray disc is cleaner and far more filmic in appearance. There are still a handful of specks, sure, but nothing worth getting up in arms about. It hopefully goes without saying that there's an enormous leap forward in detail and clarity, especially how finely resolved the texture of grain is in 1080p. That grain thankfully has not been smeared away by overzealous noise reduction or the like. The color timing is dramatically different as well. Considering that it's Halloween and that blue is such a distinctive part of the series' visual language, the DVD skewing in that direction does make quite a bit of sense. Still, its hues are too often dull and faded. There's something about the saturation on Blu-ray that just seems right to my eyes. I mean, the piercing oranges in the opening titles are cinematic on Blu-ray and more like a glorified TV movie on DVD. The release from 2001 is also vertically distorted. It's subtle enough that watching the DVD on its own looks natural enough, but it's definitely elongated by comparison. Again, I don't know how the DiviMax set from a few years back stands up, but if you're still holding onto that decade-old DVD, this Blu-ray release of Halloween 4 is an essential upgrade.
Halloween 4 arrives on a single-layer Blu-ray disc. The presentation has been encoded with AVC and is slightly letterboxed to preserve the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
Once again, Halloween 4 has been remixed from Ultra Stereo to six discrete channels. This 16-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is surprisingly limp and lifeless, though. Despite being a 5.1 mix, there might as well not be an LFE channel at all with a low-end this anemic. Actually, the levels across the board are unusually flat, devoid of any dynamic range whatsoever. This neuters the jump scares, and other effects I'd expect to
pack a hell of a wallop -- say, an EMT's head getting smashed against the side of an ambulance or a gas station going up in flames -- might as well be belched out from the built-in speakers on my TV. There's some occasional directionality, such as the bursts of gunfire from that lynch mob, although the use of the surrounds is generally kept fairly subtle. I dunno, I have stacks of '80s genre flicks on Blu-ray downstairs, so I feel like I have enough of a point of reference for my expectations to be reasonable. This remix of Halloween 4 is so meek and timid that it sounds to me like something just went wrong. Listenable but lackluster.
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There aren't any dubs or alternate mixes on this Blu-ray disc. Subtitles, meanwhile, are limited to English (SDH) and Spanish.
Don't throw out your old DVDs quite yet. Anchor Bay's DVD releases from both 2001 and 2006 included a 17 minute featurette called "The Making of Halloween 4: Final Cut", and for whatever reason, it didn't make its way onto this Blu-ray disc. Also, the initial press release boasted about a full half hour of deleted and alternate scenes, admittedly in contrast to director Dwight H. Little saying in his commentary that practically nothing was left on the cutting room floor. None of that footage has been included here. Heck, the press release also mentioned the audio commentary with writer Alan B. McElroy from the 2006 DVD, and -- you guessed it! -- that's missing in action too. No idea what's going on there. As for what has been included:
- Audio Commentaries: Director Dwight H. Little is featured in the first of Halloween 4's commentary tracks. It's also worth mentioning that Justin Beahm, the editor-in-chief of halloweenmovies.com and the author of the upcoming Halloween: The Complete Authorized History, keeps a steady flow of conversation going as moderator. Among the highlights are how the script was hammered out in less than two weeks to beat the looming writer's strike, why Loomis' facial scars look so wildly different throughout the movie, nudity that was filmed and ultimately went unused, stamping out one longstanding conspiracy theory about the mask, and touching on the supernatural overtones that rear their head near the end. This commentary, which Halloween 4 completists will note is the only new extra on the disc, is very much worth a listen.
The second commentary with actresses Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris is charming enough, but it's not a discussion in the sense of...I don't know, anything. They kinda just sit back, watch the movie, and say whatever pops into their heads: everything from giggling at Michael Myers' radically shifting hair color to cute boys to almost reteaming for House of the Dead 2. Their conversation swirls more around what happened between takes than an ordinary making-of. Still, it's kinda cool to hear Harris talk about going as herself -- drenched in blood -- for Halloween that year as well as how Rebecca Schaeffer and
Melissa Joan Hart were considered for their roles. You're not missing out on much if you pass, though.
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- Halloween 4/5 Discussion Panel (18 min.; SD): Shot in 2003 before Rob Zombie trotted out his take on the franchise, this panel from the H25 convention features actors Danielle Harris, Kathleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson, and Jeffrey Landman. The discussion spans both parts 4 and 5, including everyone's general disappointment with the fifth installment, who the guy in the silver-toed boots is supposed to be, and their battle scars from filming. It's not exactly the most focused Q&A, veering off on the actors' favorite installments in the Halloween series and random notes about other movies they've starred in over the years. Still nice to have it included, especially Danielle Harris saying she'd love to be a part of another Halloween movie, even if it was a completely different character...something she'd get a chance to do just a few short years after this.
- Trailer (2 min.; SD): Last up is a standard-def trailer.
Oh, and if you haven't seen Halloween 4 before, you might want to ignore the main menus, seeing as how they spoil one of the very last shots of the flick and everything.
The Final Word
No, it doesn't approach the dizzying heights of John Carpenter's masterpiece, but Halloween 4: The Return of the Michael Myers still easily ranks as the best of the franchise's many sequels, and I'd also chalk it up as one of the better slashers from the tailend of the 1980s, period. The lackluster audio and the dropping of the deleted scenes come as a definite disappointment, but I'm really impressed by how terrific Halloween 4 looks in high-def, and it's always appreciated to have a longtime favorite on Blu-ray anyway. A release matching the initial specs would've scored a more enthused rating, but this compromised disc still comes Recommended.