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Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Blu-ray)

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Halloween 4 (Blu-ray)Starring Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, George P. Wilbur, Beau Starr

Directed by Dwight H. Little

Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment


In the years following Michael Myers’ incineration at the hands of Dr. Loomis, other slashers trudged on, undaunted by diminishing returns and the inevitability of franchise fatigue. In those years, Jason Voorhees raked up an impressive body count, appearing in four films – yes, A New Beginning counts – while Michael’s potential smoldered on a Smith’s Grove gurney. Producer Moustapha Akkad was astute enough to recognize the potential in more mayhem and, as such, ordered the resurrection of horror’s greatest boogeyman in 1988.

Since its release, I’ve seen The Return of Michael Myers countless times. I was a little boy of nine when it was released (probably ten by the time I saw it on home video), and my dad was cool enough to rent it for me the day it hit VHS. I watched it, rewound it and watched it again. The next day, I couldn’t wait to get home from school to do the same. Truth be told, I once liked it more than John Carpenter’s original – it’s much more fast-moving, and seeing a little kid as the protagonist certainly helped anchor my own attention back then. So yes, it’s commonplace to be hyperbolic in nature, but when I tell you that I’ve seen Halloween 4 no less than forty/fifty times, please believe me. There are few films I’ve seen more.

I love Halloween 4 so much that it often pains me to see it dismissed as another dumb slasher movie. Yes, it’s undoubtedly a film working within established confines, but director Dwight H. Little crafted what I consider to be the best slasher sequel of all time. From frame one, it’s obvious that Little took a long, hard look at John Carpenter’s Halloween and understood the importance of mood. Here, the atmospheric montage of fall landscapes set to eerie ambient music is all that’s needed to set the tone. He ensures that every exterior is bathed in fall colors: Bright leaves litter yards and roads, accented by October décor. At night, thick fog swirls through the streets – suggesting evil is afoot and possibly around every corner. Little’s movie is literally drenched in Halloween flavor, making this optimal holiday viewing year after year.

That’s not to suggest that Halloween 4 coasts only on atmosphere. It’s actually a rare sequel where everything feels fresh, energetic and … logical. Alan B. McElroy’s script paints Haddonfield in a believable light as a small Midwestern town badly scarred by a horrific killing spree and desperate to forget. The townspeople we meet speak of Michael’s killings in clipped and hushed tones, as if the wound has only begun to heal. Beyond that, these people take action. When the ever-dependable envoy of bad news, Dr. Loomis, shows up, it’s the antithesis of the first two films in that everybody heeds his warnings for once! The locals form a lynch mob, and the new Sheriff is determined to prevent another bloodbath. It’s a far cry from the usual ”that was a long time ago, he’s dead now!” rhetoric these films usually wallow in.

Probably the best aspect of McElroy’s script is how tactical Michael is this time. He isolates his victims by causing a town-wide blackout and murders the entire police force, preventing anyone from coming to little Jamie Lloyd’s rescue. We’ve never seen Michael this diabolical, and it gives the villain increased presence, and threat, in this sequel.

Halloween 4 (Blu-ray)
The script also lays out some intensely likable characters to root for. Rachel (Ellie Cornell) is a terrific substitute for Jamie Lee Curtis – equally likable, but with a bit more confidence at the outset. Cornell is a natural heroine, and her chemistry with Danielle Harris has resonated powerfully with fans over the last twenty-five years for good reason. As Jamie, Harris is absolutely fantastic. She’s vulnerable but never annoying. Throughout the first act of the film, we watch Jamie struggle to obtain a sense of normalcy despite her unfortunate ties to Michael, and it’s actually sort of heartbreaking because we know her life will never be ordinary.

The supporting cast works, too. Sasha Jenson’s Brady is an enjoyable lout who makes one hell of a final stand, Kathleen Kinmont blew my ten-year-old mind as the voluptuous sexpot (and Sheriff’s daughter) Kelly, while Ben Meeker (Beau Starr) is the kind of cop you want guarding your town. Barman Earl (Gene Ross) and Reverend Sayer (Carmen Filpi) add some extra, memorable flavor. And don’t even get me started on Ted Hollister.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite aspect of every Halloween film in which he appears: Donald Pleasence. The actor took Loomis one step closer to insanity with every performance – just a little faster to fly off the handle each time. Pleasence’s involvement was a terrific way for the series to retain some “legitimacy” (having an excellent actor appear in what many perceived as by-the-numbers productions) while the series ticked along. Unfortunately, the series stopped feeling like Halloween once he passed, and for me the franchise died when he did.

The setpieces are excellent throughout; the whole Meeker house sequence never fails to generate goosebumps, while the suspenseful classroom chase takes full advantage of its desolate school halls (and watch out for that blonde-haired mask). For a late-80s slasher flick, the emphasis remains on tension and atmosphere, rather than trumped up gore (which likely would’ve been excised by the overzealous MPAA of the era anyway) and violence. As such, Halloween 4 retains a degree of class that most slashers never achieve.

Halloween 4 works well because it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, instead choosing to honor its place in the series by acknowledging what worked before – and following suit. It has likable characters and offers a sense of history that helps enliven the fictional world of Haddonfield, Illinois. If you’re going to resurrect an iconic villain for another go ‘round, this is exactly how it’s done.

Halloween 4 (Blu-ray)
Halloween 4 stalks onto Blu-ray with a solid high definition transfer. Grain structure is intact for those of you who worry about Blu-ray taking the “grit” out of your favorite horror titles. But even so, there are some moments were it looks like some grain has been scrubbed away, leading to some minor image inconsistencies. Details are overall strong, depicting rich textures in clothing, backgrounds and actors’ faces. Colors are bold, with everything looking far more eye-catching than any prior home video incarnation (and yes, I compared this Blu-ray against each DVD release). As the final act of the film is quite dark, black levels are impressive as well. If you’re wondering whether or not Halloween 4 offers a substantial upgrade in picture quality, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

This brings us to a “good, not great” audio presentation. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack sounds pretty good – its greatest strength being in crystal clear dialogue levels. Ambiance sounds are fair, although Alan Howarth’s great score falls a bit flat. Sound FX are fine but perhaps might’ve been a bit more punchy. The gas station explosion feels particularly unsatisfying – not what you’d come to want from uncompressed audio. But still, there’s nothing egregious here; it’s a perfectly adequate way to enjoy the film, even if I wanted a bit more.

As for special features there’s only one exclusive to Blu-ray, and that’s the brand new audio commentary by director Dwight H. Little. It’s a solid track moderated by HalloweenMovies.com curator Justin Beahm. It’s nice to get Little’s perspective on this flick finally, and his recollections make for a pretty interesting listen. To his credit, Beahm asks some good questions and keeps the dialogue moving. From previous DVD incarnations, we get the commentary with Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris – a fun and lively discussion if ever there was one. Nice to hear Cornell and Harris’ chemistry is still as terrific as ever. There’s an eighteen-minute Halloween 4/5 discussion panel featuring Danielle Harris, Kathleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson, and Jeffrey Landman (Billy from Halloween 5). It’s an enjoyable feature in which each participant shares some personal recollections of their experience. Lastly, a standard definition trailer rounds out the set.

Halloween 4 doesn’t stand up against John Carpenter’s seminal slasher. That’s obvious. But it succeeds at everything it sets out to accomplish just the same (with only a slapdash mask design for Michael holding it back). It’s among the top slashers of the 1980s and easily sits as the best sequel in the Halloween saga. In fact, it’s one of the films that cultivated my ongoing obsession with slasher flicks, and watching it always feels like going home again. Anchor Bay has given this a strong Blu-ray bow and supplemented it with some decent extras. If you’re a fan of Halloween, this one belongs in the collection.

Special Features

  • New, Blu-ray exclusive audio commentary by director Dwight Little & moderated by Justin Beahm
  • Audio commentary with actors Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris
  • Halloween 4 / 5 Convention Panel
  • Theatrical Trailer
    Film:
     

    4 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features:
     

    3 out of 5

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
2.0

Summary

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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Satan’s Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review – Sacrifice This Snoozer At The Altar!

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Starring Jack Kruschen, John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jacqueline Cole

Directed by Greydon Clark

Distributed by VCI


The ‘70s. Satanism. Sultry cheerleaders. Sex appeal. With these tools nearly any low-budget filmmaker should be able to turn out something that is, at the very least, entertaining. The last thing a viewer expects when tuning in to a film called Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is to be bored to tears. But that is exactly the reaction I had while watching director Greydon Clark’s wannabe cult comedy. Even on a visual level this film can’t be saved, and it was shot by Dean Cundey! No, unfortunately there isn’t a cinematic element in the world that can overcome a roster of bad actors and a storyline so poorly constructed it plays like it was written on the day. The only saving grace, minor as it may be, is the casting of John Ireland as Sheriff B.L. Bubb (cute), a hard-nosed shitkicker who adds all the gravitas he can muster. But a watchable feature cannot be built upon the back of a single co-star, as every grueling minute of Satan’s Cheerleaders proves.

The cheerleaders and jocks of Benedict High School rule the campus, doing what they want, when they want, with little else on their minds except for The Big Game. Their belittling attitudes rub school janitor (and stuttering dimwit) Billy (Jack Kruschen) the wrong way. What they don’t know is Billy is (somehow) the head of a local Satanic cult, and he plans to place a curse on the clothes (really) of the cheerleaders so they… suck at cheerleading? Maybe they’ll somehow cause the jocks to lose the big game? When Billy isn’t busy plotting his cursed plans, he spies on the girls in the locker room via a hidden grate in the wall. I guess he doesn’t think being a sexual “prevert” is fair trade enough; might as well damn them all, too. Billy has his own plans to kidnap the girls, for his Lord and Master Satan, and he succeeds with ease when the girls’ van breaks down on the highway; he simply offers them a ride and they all pile in. But when Ms. Johnson (Jacqueline Cole) gets hip to his plan the two tussle in the front seat and Billy winds up having a heart attack.

The squad runs off in search of help, coming across the office of Sheriff B.L. Bubb (John Ireland), who, as the name implies, may be a legit Satanist. Bubb invites the girls inside, where they meet his wife, Emmy (Yvonne De Carlo), High Priestess of their quaint little satanic chapter. While the girls get acquainted with Emmy, Bubb runs off to find Billy, who isn’t actually dead. Wait, scratch that, Bubb just killed him for… some reason. The girls figure out things aren’t so rosy here at the Bubb estate, so they hatch an escape plan and most make it to the forest. The few that are left behind just kinda hang out for the rest of the film. Very little of substance happens, and the pacing moves from “glacial” to “permafrost”, before a semi-psychedelic ending arrives way too late.

“Haphazard” is one of many damning terms I can think of when trying to make sense of this film. The poster says the film is “Funnier Than The Omen… Scarier Than Silent Movie” which, objectively, is a true statement, though this film couldn’t hope to be in the same league as any of the sequels to The Omen (1976) let alone the original. It is a terminal bore. Every attempt at humor is aimed at the lowest common denominator – and even those jokes miss by a wide berth. True horror doesn’t even exist in this universe. The best I can say is some of the sequences where Satan is supposedly present utilize a trippy color-filled psychedelic shooting style, but it isn’t anything novel enough to warrant a recommendation. Hell, it only happens, like, twice anyway. The rest of the film is spent listening to these simple-minded sideline sirens chirp away, dulling the enthusiasm of viewers with every word.

A twist ending that isn’t much of a twist at all is the final groan for this lukewarm love letter to Lucifer. None of the actors seem like they know what the hell to be doing, and who can blame them with material like this? I had hoped for some sort of fun romp with pompoms and pentagram, like Jack Hill’s Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) for the Satanic set, but Clark provides little more than workmanlike direction; even Cundey’s cinematography is nothing to want on a resume.

Viewers have the option of watching either a “Restored” or “Original Transfer” version of the 1.78:1 1080p picture. Honestly, I didn’t find a ton of difference between the two, though the edge likely goes to the restored version since the title implies work has been done to make it look better. Colors are accurate but a little bland, and definition just never rises above slightly average. Film grain starts off heavy but manages to smooth out later on. Very little about the picture is emblematic of HD but given the roots this is probably the best it could ever hope to look.

Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track. The soundtrack sounds like it was lifted from a porno, while other tracks are clearly library music. Dialogue never has any obvious issues and sounds clear throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

There are two audio commentary tracks; one, with director Greydon Clark; two, with David De Cocteau and David Del Valle.

A photo gallery, with images in HD, is also included.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Greydon Clark
  • Audio commentary with filmmakers David De Cocteau & David Del Valle
  • Photo gallery
  • Satan's Cheerleaders
  • Special Features
1.3

Summary

Although the title is enough to reel in curious viewers, the reality is “Satan’s Cheerleaders” are a defunct bunch with little spirit and no excitement. The ’70s produced plenty of classic satanic cinema and this definitely ain’t it.

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A Demon Within Review – Familiar Possession Beats To A Dreary Tune

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Starring Charlene Amoia, Clint Hummel, Patricia Ashley, Michael Ehlers

Directed by Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau


Possession flicks don’t often hold a long shelf life in the horror community, with Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau’s A Demon Within suggesting why. Hands emerging from the darkness, exorcisms, anxious priests – you’ll see it all again as you’ve seen it before. Early scenes glimmer a polish unlike equal indie products, but that’s just the devil playing tricks on you. Once the film’s main satanic takeover begins, cursing teens and stony glares become the been-here-before norm. Low-budget filmmaking isn’t an immediate detractor like some high-society snobs may believe, yet it’s surely no excuse either. Today’s review being an example of both mindsets.

Charlene Amoia stars as Julia Larsen, a divorcee who moves into Crestwick, Illinois looking for a clean start with daughter Charlotte (Patricia Ashley). Their dusty toucher-upper is a quaint, aged farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, complete with electrical issues and weird noises at night. Nothing to worry about, right? Julia’s focus is better directed towards town doctor Jeremy Miller (Clint Hummel), who she immediately hits it off with (after almost hitting *him* with a car). She’s eating stir-fry at his place one night, all things going well, and that’s when it happens – Charlotte is possessed by an evil force who enacts its sinister plan. Charlotte may physically be present, but only as a vessel for “Nefas.”

Without hesitation, A Demon Within lays predictable groundwork as small-town haunters have for decades. Charlotte’s new home is already infested with a spiritual squatter, Jeremy bottles (and drinks down) a blemished past that’s exposed too late, there’s plenty of characters sneakin’ up on one another – never with much “oomph.” Charlotte’s teeny-bopper voice drops to truck-driver deep at the height of possession, but it’s a distracting sound design that alone strikes little fear. Serious scares are attempted, be it a pitch-black basement slashing or Charlotte’s hide-and-seek pounce, just never delivered. An inconsequential failure to unite tone and atmosphere.

Performances are…well…rigid, to say the least. Amoia and Ashley strike a surprisingly likable chemistry as living humans, but once Ashley goes demonic, chemistry bottoms out. The way A Demon Within positions Charlotte when possessed is utterly dull and undefined; Ashley playing an unenthusiastic harbinger of death. It’s bad enough that Hummel’s tortured doctor masters the emotional range of Mona Lisa and the town’s pastor is hardly a scene stealer – but to have a demon be so vanilla (without a side of nuts, no less)? Getting past the limited lighting and Charlotte’s manly demon voice is hard enough, let alone her mostly relenting threats.

Making matters worse, the film’s third act is hardly a religious salvation that flows with ease. I had more fun watching Julia stammer over pizza and beers with Jeremy than their final fight against ghastly hellspawns. The truths of Jeremy’s past leak out in flashback form, only to reveal his stubborn inability to comprehend one’s own possession encounter in the very house Julia bought (useful information, eh?). The local priest shows up in the nick of time, a few cutaway jolts attempt cheap thrills, and some holy water mucks up an old painting – but again, minimal notability. Er…not even minimal? Shaky last-minute framing makes it hard to even notice the touch-ups to Charlotte’s face that signify her unholy imprisonment, even worse than blackened CGI mists.

A Demon Within tries, fumbles, and tries some more, but it’s best treated as a reminder of better exorcism stories that exist elsewhere. Even something like The Vatican Tapes is an improvement over this possessive redundancy, hokier than the honky-tonk love song that plays atop a pizza-chain flirt scene. There’s something to be said about getting out and creating original horror, but herein lies the problem – this ain’t *that* original. With harsher scares and tension, such a fate could be ignored. As-is? It’s hard to see past anything more than a January release placeholder.

  • A Demon Within
2.0

Summary

A Demon Within is a seen-it-before possession thriller that brings nothing new to the conversation. Not the worst, but also not a “hidden secret.”

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