Blu-ray Review: ‘Halloween 4′ and ‘Halloween 5′
Review by Eric Lefenfeld
Close your eyes. Take a breath and relax. Now try to picture a world in which Halloween III was an unequivocal success. Sure, Michael Myers slaughtered his way through a stone-cold classic and a none too shabby sequel, but the Myers-free Halloween III… that was the game-changer. Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis, and all the rest were savagely cast aside as horror fans embraced the bold new direction of the Halloween franchise. True story: on Halloween in 1982, every costume store in America had to close early and/or defend themselves from rioting crowds because all of their fake moustaches had been bought by trick or treaters putting together their Tom Atkins costumes. The franchise would continue as a series of stand-alone films related to the holiday, but not with Michael Myers as their driving force. Also, there was world peace and a cure for cancer.
This reality, as we all know, did not come to pass. Halloween III was neither a critical nor commercial success, and Carpenter’s vision of an anthology series was put out to pasture. The franchise lay dormant for six years (roughly 417 years in horror sequel time) until original Halloween producer Moustapha Akkad decided to go back to a well that had already proven to be quite giving. And thus Halloween 4 was born. The film is a particularly interesting case, since its existence is directly owed to the legion of rip-offs that flooded cinemas in the wake of the original film’s success. By 1988, the Halloween formula was firmly entrenched as a mostly-guaranteed money maker, so why mess with what works? The film, for all intents and purposes, is a remake of the original as filtered through the late 80s slasher machine.
At the end of Halloween II, Michael Myers was blinded, and both he and Dr. Loomis perished in a massive explosion. This is not true. Conveniently, both escaped with minor burns, and 10 years later, Myers has re-awakened from his stupor on Halloween to hunt down his young niece, Jamie, with Dr. Loomis in hot pursuit. Sound familiar? The entire film clings to this if-it-ain’t-broke ethos, which serves to create a serviceable and entertaining sequel. At the same time, though, this process stamps out what made the original so unique in the first place. The first film had an ominous simplicity. An unstoppable force is hunting down a young woman and her friends in what should be a picturesque suburban setting. Period. This profit-driven sequel must both imitate and top this, so now inefficient cops and a Myers-hunting lynch mob (also rather inefficient) are introduced into the mix. For the most part, neither group serve any purpose other than making the film feel overly-crowded. Similarly, Michael’s kills in the original had a hint of reality to them. By Part 4, Myers has started aping the myriad of slashers he inspired. Some of the kills are clever (albeit surprisingly bloodless), but they lack that same simplicity. Myers was always the boogeyman, but he’s a more imposing figure when the “man” portion of that word is still a recognizable part of the character.
Putting a child in the lead role is always a gamble, but Danielle Harris never buckles under the weight of having to carry most of the film. Her interactions with her stepsister, Rachel (also likable in a role that easily could’ve gone the other way), feel genuine. Harris pulls off panic, screaming, and running well enough, and that’s really all the film is asking from her. Donald Pleasance, on the other hand, is the beating heart of the franchise, and he steps back into Loomis’ iconic shoes with unabashed glee. In keeping with the amped-up nature of the film, he’s a little more manic than in the past, but Pleasence chews the scenery with glee.
Like the original, this feels like a film that embodies the spirit of the holiday for which it was named. Most scenes are dripping with Halloween-related imagery. Later films would lose that overt connection to the holiday, but there’s enough DNA from the original still intact here, which is probably why general consensus has part 4 pegged as one of the better (if not the best) Halloween sequels.
If Halloween 4 is the red-headed (but lovable in its own way) stepchild of the original, then Halloween 5 is the fish head-eating bad seed chained up in the attic that nobody wants to talk about. Like Halloween II, this one is an immediate sequel to its predecessor, and in keeping with tradition, is not nearly as enjoyable as what came before. Shot soon after the 4th film and released only a year later, Halloween 5 takes the one truly clever bit of 4 (that twist ending) and immediately throws it out the window. The old formula gets another run-through instead, except this time it’s not nearly as fun. Michael survived the mine explosion in which he was supposedly buried, and a year later, on Halloween night, he awakens from his stupor to hunt down… you get the idea. The series is officially just going through the motions at this point. Jamie still makes for a somewhat compelling lead, but now she’s saddled with Tina, one of the more annoying teen protagonists in Halloween history, AND a precocious sidekick with a cute lil’ stutter.
At this point, it’s old hat to complain about the egregious flaws in this entry, but those bumbling cops (complete with goofy musical accompaniment) are possibly one of the most tone-deaf creative decisions in a franchise that has had more than its fair share. Then, of course, there is the dreaded Man In Black. Expanding the mythology of a long-running character can be advantageous, but in this case it’s a lose-lose situation. Michael Myers is called The Shape for a reason. Tying him to anything other than being a force of unrelenting evil goes completely against everything he represents. Maybe, just maybe, had this addition to Myers’ lore been made with a modicum of creativity, it just might fly. Unfortunately, the introduction couldn’t have been any more clumsy, and fans know this storyline didn’t get any cleaner in the next film before it was finally dropped completely.
The less said about the single tear rolling down Myers’ face, the better.
If there’s one thing the film has in its favor, it’s the inventive direction courtesy of Dominique Othenin-Girard. The sequence in which Jamie hides from Michael in the laundry chute is one of the more genuinely unnerving moments of the whole series. Most of the films (until Rob Zombie came a-callin’) before and since have aped Carpenter’s workman-like style in direction, so it’s actually a little refreshing to see a film in the series take on a more fluid approach, even if it’s empty at its core. Similarly, Loomis is now shaded as even more of an over the top madman, but Pleasence just doesn’t seem as invested. It’s no secret the film suffered a myriad of behind the scenes issues, and Pleasence’s dissatisfaction is evident in both his performance and his awkward disappearances from chunks of the film.
The cover art for both discs is pretty much identical to previous editions, although now both images are superimposed with flames. Presumably, flames = jack o’ lanterns = Halloween? This seems like an extraneous tweak, but it’s a minor quibble. There’s no disputing that both films look great. The images have been cleaned up, but enough grain has remained intact that the films still look their age.
In the extras arena, both films have a mixture of features carried over from previous DVD releases in addition to some new material. 4 includes an old commentary track with Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris, as well as a new track with director Dwight H. Little and horror journalist Justin Beahm. Also included is a short clip of a Q&A from a convention in 2003. It’s entertaining, if a bit fluffy, but it too is ported over from the previous release, so most fans are likely familiar with this extra. Rounding out the package is a theatrical trailer.
The fifth film follows a similar track: one older commentary (with Dominique Othenin-Girard, Danielle Harris, and Jeffrey Landman) and one new (Justin Beahm and Don Shanks, the man behind the mask). It should be said that these commentaries are mislabeled on the packaging; Othenin-Girard and Shanks are both attributed to the wrong tracks. There’s also a bit of behind the scenes footage ported over from the earlier release and the ever-present theatrical trailer.
Also of note is what’s NOT included in the extras. Deleted scenes from both films were supposed to appear on the discs, but they’re nowhere to be found. This would have been of particular interest in the case of 5, since the finished film feels so disjointed. Also missing is an old commentary from part four screenwriter Alen B. Mcelroy, and short documentaries about the making of both films. The older material was previously released by Anchor Bay, so it’s a little suspect as to why exactly the materials weren’t included. Don’t be surprised if they show up in a new blu-ray release later on down the line.
If improved image and sound is what you’re in the market for, these discs will not disappoint. The biggest boon outside of the improved quality is getting new commentaries with people whose point of views had not yet been covered in previous releases. As enticing as that might be, it’s hard to recommend an upgrade based on that alone, since it’s likely those commentaries — along with all the other new material — will appear again when everything is finally gathered in the inevitable double dip.
Halloween 4 & 5 are available now from Anchor Bay.