Anchor Bay // 1988 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // August 21st, 2012
Ten years ago, he changed the face of Halloween. Tonight, he's back.
John Carpenter's Halloween is rightfully considered one of the best horror movies ever made, essentially giving rise to the whole genre of slasher movies that ruled the 1980s. Not surprisingly, it quickly became a franchise fraught with very uneven returns. After Universal and director Tommy Lee Wallace struck out with Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the only sequel in the series that tried to shake up the formula and leave Michael Myers out of it completely, the rights to the series went exclusively to producer Moustapha Akkad, who insisted that the masked killer be brought back in the next sequel. So, six years after Halloween III, the franchise was revived with 1988's Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.
Now, the fourth movie in the series makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Anchor Bay.
It has been nearly a decade since an explosion at the end of Halloween II was thought to have killed everyone's favorite masked killer (not named Jason or Leatherface), Michael Myers. Surprise! He isn't dead, just comatose. The artist formerly known as The Shape wakes from his coma and escapes from a sanitarium, heading off to Haddonfield, Illinois, to kill the niece, Jamie (Danielle Harris, Hatchet II), that he never knew he had. In pursuit of Michael, as always, is Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance, Escape from New York), who also survived the explosion.
It's Halloween night. Michael Myers is back. This is not going to go well for the people of Haddonfield.
Though the opinion is likely going to make me unpopular among horror movie geeks and Halloween enthusiasts, I've long held the belief that Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is the very best of all the Halloween sequels. Yes, better than the Carpenter-scripted Halloween II. Better than the insane Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Better even than Halloween H20.
It's a movie that has actually gotten better with time, when the smoke of the '80s cleared and it became evident that Halloween 4 is something different. While the second and third movies in the franchise revel in the mean-spirited excess that defined so much of '80s horror, Halloween 4 is the closest in spirit to John Carpenter's original movie. It finally recaptures the atmosphere of October in the Midwest -- from the wardrobes to the streets lined with kids trick or treating to the color of the sky, it actually feels like Halloween. Though director Dwight H. Little totally lacks Carpenter's talent for generating suspense, Halloween 4 at least dials back on the outlandish gore that characterized its two predecessors. One over-the-top kill early on aside, The Return of Michael Myers is positively subdued in the violence department. That may put some viewers off, who tune into horror movies to revel in the red stuff, but not every horror movie needs to ratchet up the kill count. Halloween 4 tries to bring a little class back to the series.
But what really makes Halloween 4 stand out -- and what aligns it more with the original than the other sequels -- is in the way it treats its characters. Unlike most '80s slashers, there isn't anyone in this movie that's outright bad or stupid. Ellie Cornell, as Jamie's foster sister Rachel, is the series' best protagonist since Jamie Lee Curtis: she's a smart, believable teenager with a life that exists before a masked killer shows up. Danielle Harris, in the role that would ultimately turn her into a modern-day Scream Queen, is a pretty great movie kid. She's not snotty or wise beyond her years. She's believable and scared, and the relationship between her and Rachel gives the movie a heart at its center. It's rare that we actually care about the characters in '80s slasher movies -- even the final girl(s). Halloween 4 is one of the exceptions. The movie's care for its cast extends beyond just the two leads, too. Consider Sasha Jenson, as Rachel's philandering boyfriend. Normally, he'd be played as another insensitive prick. He's not. He's a teenage boy who screws up, but who sort of means well. He tries to do the right thing. When the time comes, he tries to save lives. Like most of the characters in the movie, who rarely behave as stupidly as in most genre efforts (they even try to call the cops!), he isn't just fodder for Michael Myers' instruments of death. He's an actual person, and that gives the movie some stakes.
This being the fourth movie in a franchise of eight entries (plus a remake and its sequel), it's not without its problems. It's great to have Donald Pleasance back, but he seems to be acting in a different movie. There are subplots that don't work, like the group of rednecks that decide they're going to take their truck out and hunt Michael Myers down themselves (Surprise! It does not go well). The movie also has a left-field ending that recalls the opening of the first movie as well as the last scene in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter; as a standalone sequence, it's nonsensical but fine. The bigger problem is where it fits in with the overall continuity of the series -- and by that I mean that the series really has no actual continuity.
Anchor Bay's new Blu-ray of Halloween 4 is easily the best the movie has ever looked. The best change is that the 1.85:1 widescreen image has finally been properly color timed, restoring the attempt by Little and DP Peter Lyons Collister to approximate the look the original movie. Everything about this new transfer is richer and warmer, with good detail throughout and a nice, film-like appearance. Some of the black levels are a little bit shallow, which is problematic because of how dark a lot of the sequences are, but it's not a deal breaker. The 5.1 TrueHD audio track is more disappointing, making little use of the dimensional possibilities and rarely giving enough kick to create scares. It's all rather flat and uninspired.
The good news about this Blu-ray release is that it gets an all-new audio commentary from director Dwight H. Little and moderator Justin Beahm of halloweenmovies.com and the forthcoming book Halloween: The Complete Authorized History. Their talk is informative and occasionally thoughtful, filled with production details and explanations of where the movie fits within the overall series. The bad news is that a number of bonus features from the previous Divimax special edition DVD have been lost in the move to high def. The commentary with stars Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris has been ported over, but a second commentary, featuring writer Alan B. McElroy and Anthony Massey, is nowhere to be found. Also missing is that disc's very good "Final Cut" featurette. A 20-minute panel discussion from the 25th anniversary convention was carried over, as has the movie's original trailer (presented, for some reason, in standard def). There's no rhyme or reason to what survived the move to Blu-ray and what was dropped, and that's incredibly frustrating. I'm all for the inclusion of a new commentary, but it shouldn't have come at the expense of the other existing bonus features. Anchor Bay kind of blew it in that department.
I'm a big fan of Halloween 4, so I'm happy to see the movie get a Blu-ray release. I have no idea why some of the previous bonus features were carried over while others were lost, but it means that fans of Halloween 4 may want to hang onto their DVDs. The quality of the movie and the A/V upgrade make this Blu-ray worth owning, but now fans will be stuck owning two copies of the film. This should have been the definitive release. It isn't.
A frustrating disc, an underrated movie.
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R