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On paper, I can't imagine that Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers looked very promising. The film was being peddled to an audience that hadn't yet forgotten the disastrous part three, which had ignored the Michael Myers storyline entirely. Series creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill would not be returning to helm the fourth film nor would Jamie Lee Curtis reprise her role as Laurie Strode. The only elements familiar to the audience would be the silent slasher himself, Dr. Loomis, the quiet town of Haddonfield and the bone-chilling theme music. On celluloid however, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers delivered in ways it seemed incapable of before.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Feature
Slightly modifying the fatally explosive ending of Halloween II, silent slasher Michael Myers did not die (nor lose his eyesight), but was in fact sent into a coma where he's been for ten years. His doctor, still hellbent on keeping him locked up, is Sam Loomis whom narrowly escaped the explosion himself, with a few nasty burns to show for it. During a routine patient transfer, Michael snaps back to life and overthrows the EMT staff transferring him. October 31st is quickly approaching and Dr. Loomis has a fair idea of where Michael is headed; back to Haddonfield, Illinois for another night of terror. This time, his sights are set on Jamie Lloyd, orphaned daughter of the late Laurie Strode.

I'll never understand women, I'll never understand the Bush administration and I'll never understand how so many people can hate this film. Halloween 4 is one of the very few sequels that would celebrate the original and still introduce new elements. Director Dwight Little builds his film in the same tradition as the original; Michael escapes custody and heads back to Haddonfield. We spend the next part of the film in the quaint little town waiting for the boogeyman to show up and getting to know our cast. Nightfall is soon upon us and the suspense is about to overwhelm, seeing our characters are run around town when we know he's there somewhere, lurking in the shadows. It's a wonderful moment of nostalgia when little Jamie is shopping for costumes and chooses the very same clown outfit that little Michael wore on that fateful night in 1963. Composer Alan Howarth further adds to the nostalgia by crafting a score that re-images Carpenter's themes with a more orchestral feel. It's these little touches that really make this installment an enjoyable ride.

The flick is also made wonderful by the people who are in it, the greatest performance being that of Donald Pleasence.  I didn't mind seeing Jamie Lee Curtis leave the franchise as she was merely the prey, but Dr. Loomis is the Captain Ahab of our story. He's the voice of reason for all characters to listen to, even though they rarely do. Playing Jamie Lloyd, Michael Myers' young niece, is a surprisingly strong child actress by the name of Danielle Harris. The introduction of kiddies into horror films can often ruin them yet Harris holds her own against her fellow cast members. The lovely Elli Cornell channels Curtis' role from the original as Jamie's older step-sister, Rachel Carruthers. Stuntman George Wilbur steps into the mask that was last filled by Dick Warlock. I've often heard the title role spoken of as if there were a science to it, which always gives me a chuckle. The actor in the jumpsuit isn't going to reinvent the character, so all they need to focus on is looking enough like the chaps who first played the brute. In that respect, Wilbur gives a fine portrayal of evil incarnate; big, mean, and (nearly) unstoppable.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
One of my favorite moments in the entire series goes down in this film, also qualifying as one of the most intense. In a spooky exchange, Dr. Loomis encounters Michael in a slaughtered gas station, thirty miles from nowhere. Speaking from across a long hallway, Loomis begs for him to stay away from Haddonfield, to leave those people in peace and to take him if he'd like another victim. Michael's large, ominous figure stands silent, expectedly unaffected by Loomis' request. Seconds later the good doctor is firing an entire clip at his patient, every shot missing, and then Michael is gone. The viewer watching this unfold knows Loomis doesn't really expect Michael to heed his plea, but he makes it all the same and with a sad desperation in his voice, a magnificent testament to Pleasence' acting ability.

If you're looking for gore, you'll have to find it elsewhere. Return carries on the wonderful tradition from the original of being low on guts and high on suspense. The filmmakers toy with the audience the way a cat toys with a mouse. By observing our characters, ignorant to Myers presence, wander the town, the level of suspense is constantly rising. A particularly effective scene is when Rachel and Jamie are fleeing from the boogeymen on a rooftop. Rachel accidentally back-dives off the side, hitting the ground rendering her unconscious. At this point, all of little Jamie's safety nets are gone. Her parents are out of town, Sheriff Meeker and Dr. Loomis are at the police station, and her step-sister is unconscious, possibly dead. It's a very chilling moment when as Jamie tries to revive her step-sister, Michael's figure slowly walks into frame.

What's there not to like about Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers? It's flaws don't exactly shine brightly and your opinion of it will probably hinge on your fondness of the original and the slasher sub-genre as a whole. Judging by the standard set by other horror sequels of it's time, Return is a respectable sequel, one worthy of calling itself a Halloween film. Fun for a film of it's type, this is an enjoyable slasher flick.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Video
The lovely folks at Anchor Bay have shown much love to Return by re-mastering it with their high definition Divimax technology. This is the first film in the franchise to be shot in 1:85:1 aspect ratio and it was done so beautifully by cinematographer Peter Lyons Collister. The man is no Dean Cundey, but Halloween 4 has a creepy visual style, well evidenced in the montage of harvest images shown at the beginning. Unfourtunatly, this great sequence is the only part of the disc that really looks like crap with grain and colors bleeding quite a bit. Thankfully, the picture clears up quickly after. The rest of the picture is free of dirt and scratches just as you'd expect from a Divimax release. I found a tiny bit more of grain during a few scenes, but nothing major. It's important that Anchor Bay made sure to perfectly hone in black levels and image contrast because a large portion of this film takes place in the still of night. They do not disappoint. Point blank, this transfer is spectacular.

When Halloween 4 made it's DVD debut seven years ago, it was given a non-anamorphic transfer. The following year the film was re-mastered and made anamorphic; this is the edition I'll use to make comparisons. My first impression is that the last transfer was pretty crummy. Noticeably troubled by grain, film scratches were far from uncommon. In this new Divimax transfer however, the image quality is fantastic. Everything appears much sharper and overall clarity is drastically improved (more evident when the transfers are in motion than these screenshots). The two discs are a few seconds off-sync, so if any of these comparisons look a frame or two different, I apologize.

My first comparison illustrates how much image clarity has improved; someone could've told me that first title screenshot was from the VHS edition of the same release and I'd have to believe them. The previous disc was far too bright to look natural so I appreciate Anchor Bay toning things down. The second comparison of Dr. Loomis shooting up the gas station is evidence of improved clarity and better flesh tones. The third comparison is one of the few instances where I oddly prefer the previous transfer. Both releases appear to have nice black levels; but look at the color change in the hallway. The blueish tint is much scarier than the white light in the Divimax release. Similarly, I didn't like how in comparison four blue turned to purple, even if only a little. I complain about it now simply because I have the two images side by side but during the movie everything appears normal. It wasn't noticeable enough to make me stop the feature mid-film to gawk at the slightly modified colors. Unquestionably, this new transfer kicks the living daylights out of the old one and looks especially nice on a big screen. Good job, Anchor Bay.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
2000 Original Transfer

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
2006 Divimax Transfer


Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
2000 Original Transfer

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
2006 Divimax Transfer


Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
2000 Original Transfer

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
2006 Divimax Transfer


Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
2000 Original Transfer

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
2006 Divimax Transfer


Audio
I'm pretty sure that Anchor Bay has carried over the same Dolby Digital 5.1 track from the previous release which is fine by me as both do the film justice. My favorite moments in the track are the very beginning when a comatose Michael is transferred between hospitals during a thunderstorm and the ending with it's mighty array of gun blasts. Alan Howarth's chilling score always comes across audibly separate from the dialogue and atmospheric effects, resulting in a track that absolutely immerses you in the film. Turn the lights down low, crank up the volume and prepare to be scared.

Extras
The biggest attraction of this new release for me was the two new audio commentaries. Fans know how well actresses Danielle Harris and Ellie Cornell interact, so pairing them in a commentary was a great idea. They offer up a pretty fun track. The second commentary features screenwriter Alan B. McElroy and webmaster of the official website Anthony Masi. I believe Masi was put on the track to interview McErloy, but it's more of a conversation than anything else. Surprisingly, I enjoyed this track much more than the first because of the wealth of insight the screenwriter provides. Great commentaries, both of them.

The 'Halloween 4/5 Discussion Panel' was an event that occured during the 'Halloween Returns to Haddonfield' convention back in October of 2003. It runs eighteen minutes long and features several of the cast taking questions from audience members. It's a fun feature, but I have to wonder why it wasn't included as an extra on the Halloween: 25 Years of Terror release? The set featured discussion panels from films one, two, and six... so why not this one?

Ported over from the previous edition is 'The Making of Halloween 4: Final Cut', a seventeen minute retrospective featurette. Despite being an enjoyable supplement, 'Final Cut' isn't exactly the meatiest of bonus materials. I wouldn't pass it by, but compared to the wealth of information presented in the audio commentaries, it feels more like a tease than anything else. Rounding out the disc is the film's highly effective trailer, one that borrows from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Overall
If you're a casual fan of the Halloween franchise and already own Return on DVD, you may want to consider upgrading. The movie shines like never before in it's new Divimax transfer and the new supplements make for a substantial and hearty special edition. If you've always wanted to pick up this title but never gotten around to it, there's never been a better time.


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