“This is where society dumps its worst nightmares.”
In 1978 John Carpenter created a landmark horror film in Halloween. While it certainly can’t be called the first slasher film, it was absolutely the first commercially successful slasher movie and set up the pattern that we’re still following today. Carpenter created a new kind of Hollywood monster: the mindless human-shaped killing machine. Michael Myers with his William Shatner rubber mask would eventually give birth to the likes of Jason and Freddy.
The film was quickly followed by a pretty strong sequel, and then Carpenter did something unexpected. The third film had nothing to do with Michael Myers or any of the characters and events of the original film. It was Carpenter’s idea to use the Halloween franchise tag to tell different horror stories, perhaps on an annual basis in October. Unfortunately, fans didn’t embrace the story of a modern-day witch and his attempt to control children through hexed Halloween masks. If the movie title said Halloween, we wanted Michael Myers otherwise known as The Shape. Halloween 4 did that, albeit without the involvement of his creator John Carpenter.
“A decade ago, Halloween Night, he murdered 16 people, maybe more, trying to get to his sister. Nearly got her, too. But his doctor, of all people, shot him 6 times, then he set him on fire. Both of them nearly burned to death.”
And now you’re up to speed. It’s been ten years since the events of Halloween II. Michael has been in a catatonic state at a state hospital under the supervision of Dr. Loomis (Pleasence). But the powers that be are tired of having Michael around and decide he needs to be transferred without consulting Loomis. In fact, they hope it will also rid them of the obsessive doctor as well. Of course, things don’t go as planned, and Michael escapes the transport ambulance and the killing has already begun again. Loomis is back on the trail.
But where is Michael going now? His sister was killed in a car accident, so she is no longer a target. Loomis soon realizes that Michael’s new target is her daughter, his 10 year old niece Jamie (Harris). At least this time the Haddonfield cops believe him, the ones who haven’t already been hacked to pieces, that is. There’s also a red-neck truckload of “good ol’ boys” who are just as dangerous on the hunt for Michael. It’s a “shoot first and ask questions later” that leads to its own tragic consequences. It’s another hunt: Michael hunting for Jamie and the rest of the town hunting for Michael. It all takes place, of course, on Halloween Night.
Halloween sequels have never really captured the atmosphere of the original film. Some things can never truly be recreated. I do think this one might have come the closest. The very young Danielle Harris is a bit of a breath of fresh air here. By now we all know her as an established horror actor as an adult. You can really see some extraordinary acting from this little kid. She helps to change the tone from the already tired formula of cat and mouse these films have turned into. For some it might have been a bit much putting such young children in the path of the monster, but it works. The chemistry Harris has with Ellie Cornell as her protector Aunt Rachel is solid. These aren’t your typical slasher-fodder characters or performances. They elevate the film itself above the rather weak script and a lot of been-there- done-that situations. Of course, Halloween has never been the same since we lost Donald Pleasence. With this acting combination we don’t necessarily miss Jamie Lee Curtis. It was a nice touch to give the girl Jamie’s name, however. I’ve heard Danielle claim there was no relation there, but I rather doubt that’s true.
Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers is actually quite tame when compared to the other films in the franchise. Most of the kills are quick and often off-camera. This is not a gore-fest by any stretch of the imagination. There are none of the frightening body poses from the original and almost no nudity. I suspect we’re talking a PG-13 by today’s standards. The only thing that might change that is again the idea of such a young girl in danger.
Halloween 4 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30-35 mbps. Those of you who have the old DVD will want to jump on this high-definition upgrade. That print was simply horrible, while this one is actually quite nice. Certainly, the age shows here, but this is one of the better upgrades of 80’s DVD prints I’ve encountered. There’s a lot of detail that has sorely been missed in previous attempts. The film also shows off some nice texture with film grain still intact. It looks like an 80’s slasher film did at the theaters so many years ago. Black levels are average or a little better. The print condition is also rather good. It’s a good example of limited DNR. It has a very film-like quality that is absolutely necessary to retain any of the original atmosphere.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 isn’t quite as obvious of an upgrade. Here I felt let down. There is almost zero sub response here. The wonderful Carpenter theme is remarkably flat throughout. Dialog is fine, to be sure, but little else in this presentation really comes to life.
There are 2 Audio Commentaries here. The first features director Dwight Little and Justin Beahm as a sort of moderator. You get the impression of a troubled production here. There’s plenty of candid talk about the film’s flaws and the issues that contributed to them. The writers’ strike of that year was a huge factor on the thin script.
The second Audio Commentary is much more fun and lively. It features leads Danielle Harris and Ellie Cornell. It’s not really informative at all, but you do get the feeling you’re sitting in the room just watching the movie with the two actors.
Halloween 4/5 Discussion Panel: (18:28) SD It’s from the H25 Convention and features Danielle Harris, Kathleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson and Jeffrey Landman. The group talk about both movies and answer questions from fans. It’s poorly edited and feels quite awkward. There’s nothing new to be learned here at all.
With Rob Zombie’s latest takes on the franchise, Halloween has continued to not only live, but thrive for almost 40 years. Danielle Harris has gone on to star in Zombie’s version, and she has certainly established herself in the horror field. You have to look at this film as part of this vast history and take it for the good and the bad. It’s not a movie that is in danger of being considered a classic, but you can pick it up for very little money. It’s good for a few scares and a few laughs. As for Michael Myers and the future of the franchise? “You can’t kill damnation, Mister. It don’t die like a man dies.”