Saturday, December 15, 2012

Blu-ray Review: HALLOWEEN 4 - The Return of Michael Myers (1988)


Region: A
Rating: R
Duration: 88 Mins
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 with English, Spanish Subtitles 
Director: Dwight H. Little 
Cast: Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, Michael Pataki, Donald Pleasance
Tagline: He Changed the Face of Halloween. Tonight, He's Back

Following the commercial failure of HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)  producer Moutaspha Akkad set out to side-step the third installment of the seminal slasher franchise and set in motion a direct sequel to HALLOWEEN II (1981) with John Carpenter in the directing chair once again, however, things fizzled when producer and director couldn't see eye to eye and the film landed in the lap of upcoming director Dwight D. Little whom had previously directed the action adventure feature BLOODSTONE (1988).

Set ten years after the fiery ending of HALLOWEEN II the film starts of strong with an evocative intro that sets a strong Halloween atmosphere right from the first frame. Michael Myers has lain comatose at the Smith's Grove Sanitarium since the events a decade earlier and is being transferred to another sanitarium without the consult of Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance). It's a stormy night and en route the attendees in the back of the ambulance strike up a conversation about the events a decade prior and reveal that the only surviving member of the family is a young nice Jamie Strode, daughter Michael's sister Laurie who it is revealed died in a car accident. This revelation of course spurs Myers to awaken from his coma and escape after inexplicably pushing his thumb through the forehead of one of the orderlies. We can thank special effects artist Carl Buechler (BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR) who was brought in post production to gore-up the film a bit, which he does quite nicely. The blood-soaked ambulance is discovered the next day turned upside down in a shallow creek, which the authorities believe to be an unfortunate accident spurred by the poor road conditions the night before. 

Enter Donald Pleasance (RAW MEAT) as Dr. Loomis whom is furious when he finds out about the transfer and subsequent escape of Myers, everyone else seems to believe Michael has died in the accident but when no body is recovered Loomis knows he's returning to Haddonfield to finish his work and that young Jamie is in danger. Loomis here is a but unhinged but it's a great performance, Loomis is the heart and soul of the film, this is a bit before Pleasance took it maybe a bit too far in latter sequels but here it's just right. 

Jamie Strode is played by a young  Danielle Harris (HATCHET) who is pretty great considering just how awful the reality of a child character in a slasher film should be, a very sympathetic kid with a good range of emotions. Jamie begins to have frightening visions of Myers, there's some kind of psychic connection between the two, an element that is exploited during the film's final moments. Jamie lives with her adopted family the Caruthers and their daughter Rachel who is left alone with her on Halloween night which does not bode well in this series.

There's a lot to like here, while not on par with Carpenter's original or even the first sequel there's some nice touches, for starters it's got a great Halloween vibe, you totally believe the Fall setting, the atmosphere is spot on and really ads to the proceedings. One of my favorite scenes has Loomis stopping off at a gas station en route to Haddonfield where he encounters Michael's handiwork, a dead mechanic tangled in chain hanging from the ceiling. Loomis nearly shoots Meyers  but he escapes in a tow truck sending the station up in a fiery explosion destroying Loomis's car and leaving him to travel on foot before he's picked-up by a travelling preacher, the doomsayer of sorts, in the film.

After Michael starts his rampage in town a group of locals at the bar form a posse and get a bit trigger happy blasting the wrong guy, a bit later the same posse while transporting Jamie and Rachel to the safety of the next town are taken out one by one by Myeres who's hitched a ride underneath their pick-up CAPE FEAR style, there's a nice gore scene as Meyers rips out the driver's throat. 

Something that just wasn't working for me this time out was the Meyer's mask which changes a bit throughout the film, none of them as effective as the original but nonetheless this is a strong late-80's slasher that at least attempts to maintain the atmosphere and feel of the original film, the introduction of Jamie Strode is a good story arc and we get some cool moments of gore with a shocker ending that is a sweet nod to the original as well. 

Blu-ray: Anchor Bay presents  Halloween 4 in it's original widescreen aspect ratio (1.85:1) with a transfer sourced from a nice print. Colors are nicely saturated and black levels and shadow detail are quite nice. Instances of print damage are minor but you do occasionally get some white specks. Overall we get a robust image that's lacking a bit in areas of sharpness but very nice and the film grain is left intact. 

The Blu-ray comes equipped with an English language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track with optional English and Spanish subtitles, dialogue, effects and Allan Howarth's score are well-balanced, clean and free of any distortion, not the most robust audio you'll ever hear but adequate

Some of the disc's special features have been carried over from the previous Anchor Bay Special Divimax Edition  including the audio commentary with actress Ellen Cornell and Danielle Harris, the two actresses have some chemistry and it makes for an interesting listen filled with anecdotes, recollections and trivia about working on the set and what went on behind-the-scenes. Also ported over from the DVD is the Halloween 4/5 Discussion Panel (18:28) with Jeffrey Landon, Sasha Jenson, Kathleen Kinmont and Danielle Harris whom field questions from convention goers, it's fun stuff even if Harris seems annoyed from time to time as she speaks to her dislike of how HALLOWEEN 7-8 ignores her character altogether, her preference for 4 over 5. Sasha Jenson who's probably best know for his character from Richard Linklatter's 70s stoner comedy DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993) even sportingly fields the question if he actually got high on the set of that film. 

In addition to a Trailer (1:36) we get a brand new audio commentary from director Dwight H. Little and author Justin Beahm from the website. It's an entertaining commentary as the director talks about all facets of the production and personal anecdotes, from his own Midwestern roots informing the agrarian introduction of the film which established an aesthetic and mood, the sets and locations, meeting with producer Moustapha Akkad, bringing Donald Pleasance back to the series and working with then child actor Danielle Harris  It's  all around informative track and a great new feature.

Something missing from the disc that was advertised in the early press release are 30 minutes of 
Deleted and Alternate Scenes which was a whopper of a disappointment - not sure what the story there but it's a major fuck-up - I know a lot of fans including myself were miffed that this was absent. It's also disappointing that the audio commentary with writer Alan B. McElroy from the Divimax edition has been excised, too. While the Blu-ray is definitely worth a purchase for the 1080p upgrade in my opinion including all of the previous features with the new commentary and deleted scenes would have made this a no-brainer. It's a good set, but it could have been great, and with these items lacking there's a certain number of folks who just won't bite the apple a second time until they get what they feel is the definitive edition.

Special Features: 
Audio Commentary with Director Dwight H. Little and Author Justin Beahm
-  Audio Commentary with Actors Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris
-  Halloween 4/5 Discussion Panel (18:28) 
-  Theatrical Trailer (1:36)

Verdict: HALLOWEEN 4 is a strong late-80's slasher entry that attempts to maintain some of the atmosphere and feel of the original film with some degree of success. The 1080p upgrade is a strong argument for an upgrade as is the director commentary but I am bummed we do not get the half hour of deleted/alternate scenes - that's a damn shame but this is still a decent slasher with some nice gore, suspense and it's a recommend, 3.5 Outta 5