After the “death” of Michael Myers and Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) at the conclusion of 1982’s Halloween 2, and the subsequent critical and commercial disaster that was 1983’s Myers-less Halloween III: Season of the Witch (a film I’ve since grown immensely fond of), things looked grim for the potential continuation of the Halloween series. While Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and other slasher series kept on churning out annual installments, it seemed like we’d seen the last of the butcher-knife wielding psychopath who started it all.
It would be another five years (an eternity for a horror franchise) before Michael came home again, but when he did, he did it with style. Widely regarded as one of the best, and best looking films in the series, Dwight H. Little’s eerily atmospheric Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.
October 30th, 1988. It’s been a ten years since Michael Myers escaped Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and hacked his way through Haddonfield in an effort to kill his long lost sister, Laurie Strode. Laurie, of course, survived her psychotic sibling’s rampage, but we soon learn she was no match for an automobile, as, a few years later, both she and her husband were killed in a car accident. Michael - wrapped like a mummy, secure in the knowledge that his bloodline has been severed - has since lay comatose in the basement of a maximum security medical facility, convalescing from the wounds he suffered during the explosive finale of Halloween 2, in which he and his long-suffering custodian, Dr. Loomis, nearly burned to death.
During a “typical dark and stormy night” transfer back to Smith’s Grove, Michael overhears the paramedics discussing his “only living relative” – a niece named Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), who, after the death of Laurie and her father, was placed into the care of the Carruthers family in Haddonfield. This revelation serves as the catalyst for the "invalid" Michael to spring back into action, slaughtering the loose-lipped ambulance crew, and leaving the thoroughly mutilated remains of both the ambulance and its occupants floating in a gully. While the police and Loomis’ new boss, Dr. Hoffman (the excellent character actor, Michael Pataki), are convinced the bloody scene is the result of an accident, an emotionally and physically scarred Loomis is certain that his patient is heading back to his old stomping grounds to prune the last branch off of the family tree.
Meanwhile, Jamie’s foster sister, Rachel (Ellie Cornell), is furious to learn that she has to cancel her plans with her boyfriend, Brady (Sasha Jenson) to babysit Jamie on Halloween night. Jamie’s not having a particularly good day, either, as the kids at school taunt and tease her about her uncle being the boogeyman, her deceased mother being a “mummy”, and about her being an orphan in general. Somehow empowered by this ordeal, Jamie decides that she wants to go trick-or-treating despite her general disdain for the holiday, and picks out the perfect costume; the exact same clown suit Michael war the night he killed his sister. As Jamie tries the costume on for size, she has a brief hallucination in which she sees the young Michael before the actual Michael appears behind her, donning his trademark mask. Well, not really. While the filmmakers originally intended to use the original mask – and actually did, for a few shots – they decided it was too ratty, so they made their own; one that ended up looking like a cross between Michael Jackson and an albino sex doll. It’s still not as bad as the abomination used in Halloween 5, but…wait…where was I?
Oh yeah! So Jamie freaks out, breaks a mirror, and then tells Rachel that she saw the boogeyman, but, instead of rushing her to the nearest psychiatric hospital, Rachel takes her home to get ready for trick-or-treat.
Loomis, in the interim, narrowly escapes yet another fireball as Michael steals a truck, blows up a gas station, and manages to take out a few telephone poles in the process. After hitching a ride into town, Loomis hooks up with Haddonfield’s new sheriff, Ben Meeker (Beau Starr), and informs him that Michael has returned to kill Jamie Lloyd. Meeker is reticent to believe the doctor, but, after a few sentences sprinkled with liberal doses of the word “evil”, the sheriff orders one of his men to call the state police for backup, but, the lines are down (remember? The phone poles? That’s called foreshadowing!). Now, hindered by the apparent inability of anyone in this town possessing the ability to stay together for more than a few minutes at a time, Loomis must once again save the people of Haddonfield from the embodiment of evil that is Michael Myers.
If it sounds like I’m making fun of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, that’s because I am, but trust me; it’s a good-natured ribbing, as this is actually my third favorite film in the series. Yes, the dialogue is occasionally wince-inducing, and the plot has more holes in it than Sonny Corleone, but I actually like the fact that it borders on silly once-in-awhile, as it makes it more fun to watch with others (and less scary when you’re all by your lonesome!).
While it wasn’t exactly a box-office smash, the film tripled its meager $5 million dollar budget, and singlehandedly resuscitated the Halloween franchise. More importantly, brought Michael Myers back to Haddonfield, where he belongs, and, in this film, Haddonfield is creepier and more atmospheric than ever. A lot of that can be attributed to the fact that Halloween IV was filmed in the comparably quaint environs of Salt Lake City, Utah (as opposed to the Los Angeles locales of the first two films in the series). The antiquated architecture, sweeping plains, and general neglected look of the film’s downtown area gives Halloween 4 a more authentic feel, and makes Haddonfield seem all the more isolated. Dwight H. Little capitalizes on his surroundings, heaping on the smoke and fog, shooting through myriad filters, and keeping the proceedings as dark as possible. Even the daytime scenes have a haunting, almost surreal quality to them, and it’s the combination of all of these factors that makes Halloween 4 stand out as one of the most visually appealing American slasher films of the ‘80s.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release presents the film in its native 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with a very impressive 1080p transfer that betters the previously available Divimax edition in every way. Colors are warmer and more pronounced, detail is exceptional, and contrast has been tweaked to correct the loss of visual information in dark sequences that was glaringly obvious on the previous releases. Gone, too, are the compression artifacts and noisy shadows, now replaced by deep, true blacks that lend the film a welcome sense of depth and dimension.
While the film looks great, the accompanying Dolby DTS HD 5.1 track is a bit of a letdown. I noticed right off the bat that bass was virtually non-existent, with obvious candidates for maximum boom power (thunder claps, slamming cell doors) lacked any discernible punch. As the film progressed, I just couldn't shake the feeling that something was "off". At first, I thought it was an issue with my system, but, upon further inspection (and comparison with other discs), I discovered that all of my speakers were working as they should; it was the mix that wasn’t doing its job. While dialogue sounded fine, it seemed like everything else, including the all-important score, emanated from the center speaker. There was some occasional activity from the surrounds, but it was all mixed so low that it was barely noticeable. The resulting soundtrack is a disappointingly flat and hollow sounding, and I can only imagine this was some sort of technical oversight, especially seeing as how the Divimax DVD edition’s standard Dolby 5.1 track sounds much fuller and offers more satisfying bass.
Another disappointment lay in the omission of two previously announced bonus features, including a commentary track by author, Alan B. McElroy, as well as one of the set’s strongest selling points - a thirty minute compilation of deleted and alternate scenes. Why these were cut from the final release, I’m not certain, but I can’t imagine fans who’ve pre-ordered the title will be happy about their exlusion.
What we do get are a pair of commentary tracks; the first of which is a previously released 2006 track featuring stars Cornell and Harris that…well…sounds a lot like what two girls watching a horror movie sounds like. There’s a lot of silence (I like to imagine they were kissing, but that’s because I’m a sicko), giggles, and the occasional nugget of behind-the-scenes info, but, for the most part, they sort of poke fun at the dialogue, other actors, and each other. The second commentary is a surprisingly entertaining and informative new track that features Dwight H. Little, and author/halloweenmovies.com webmaster, Justin Beahm.
Also included is a somewhat vintage (circa 2003) Halloween 4 discussion panel featuring Harris, along with Sasha Benson and Kathleen Kinmont (who plays Sheriff Meeker’s busty daughter, Kelly) that predates Harris’ horror movie comeback. Rounding out the extras is the films trailer (SD).
This Halloween 4 Blu-ray looks fantastic on Blu-ray, but, sadly, this release is sullied by subpar audio, and the unexpected omission of previously announced bonus features. If you can deal with the lack of extras and aren’t too picky about your audio quality, then, sure, go ahead and pick this one up, but, If you’re like me, and consider audio as important a part of the movie watching experience as video, you may want to hang on to those old DVD releases and see if the audio issues are addressed.