Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Blu-ray)
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.
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 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.
4 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5