AUGUST 25, 2012
As I've already written up reviews of both Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers, you can check those out for my in-depth thoughts on the films. This review is mainly for the new Blu-ray releases from Anchor Bay, which are getting us that much closer to having the entire series available in the format (the last of the series to hit Blu, Halloween II and III, are being released next month courtesy of Shout! Factory). Please note - if you've somehow still missed these films, there are spoilers ahead (particularly for H5)
Halloween 4, of course, is the superior of the two entries. The seasonal atmosphere, brilliantly established in the opening titles, has rarely been better in the series, and even though the mask is a source of debate, I've always liked how blank it was. Later entries gave it too much character, so even though the hair is all wrong I think they're the only post-Carpenter sequel to get the purposely expressionless look right. And it's certainly better than 5's curiosity, with the giant neck flap and oversized eyeholes - I will never understand why they made such efforts to completely redesign the mask considering that the film picks up where 4 left off. At least in 4 the changes are explained in the story - it's a new mask!
But Halloween 5 gets a bum rap, and while some is justified (the dumb cops especially), I think naysayers simply forget or ignore the fact that there's a lot to admire here, such as the Psycho-like killing of Rachel early on, Loomis' transition into full blown loon, Danielle Harris' terrific performance (she plays more than half the film in a pained muted state), and the stalking set-pieces, which have never been topped since (H20 has a couple of OK ones, the others barely even bother). And even some of its lapses have silver linings - Tina is quite annoying for the first hour, but she becomes an unwavering protector for Jamie in the 3rd act, and doesn't hesitate when jumping into the "line of stabbing" to save her life at the expense of her own. More than any other slasher series (save maybe Scream), you really sense the bond between these people; hell, even though he's a nut you can see early on that Rachel and Loomis are still fairly close.
Halloween 4, on the other hand, needs no defending. If you don't like then you're either blinded by the fact that Carpenter was no longer involved, or simply prefer body count slashers where nothing matters except when the next kill comes along. It's suspenseful, the characters are likable, and the pacing is nearly perfect. It may ape the original's structure a bit too closely at times, but look what happens when they do their own thing? You get Halloween Resurrection.
These new Blu-rays look terrific, and I would expect no less from Anchor Bay, who have consistently delivered solid transfers for their catalog titles. And unlike the original Halloween, they didn't use some misguided color re-timing - they look like they should, just with more detail and contrast. H5 in particular benefits greatly from the boosted clarity, as director Dominique Othenin-Girard favored natural lighting and shadow, keeping Michael in the shadows as often as possible. There's a shot in the barn scene where I literally never noticed Michael until now, and other moments are enhanced from the improved detail (I can now report, sadly, that Meeker is among the dead during the police siege, whereas earlier releases were too murky to tell). The True HD 5.1 sound mixes are fine as well - other than the score and some occasional screams or whatever, there isn't a lot of surround activity (the films were originally released in stereo), but it's clear and crisp and thus there's nothing to complain about, other than the fact that purists may like to have the original mixes.
I can piss and moan about the bonus features, however. We all love to joke about the Bay re-re-re-releasing titles seemingly on an annual basis, but as they've moved further into acquiring original properties (and distributing bigger titles, like newer Weinstein Company releases), they've slowed down a bit on the double/triple dipping. However, both of these releases are missing bonus features available on previous versions, which suggests that an "Ultimate Edition" of some sort may be on the way (next year IS the 25th anniversary of Halloween 4, mind you). For 4, gone is the commentary by screenwriter Alan McElroy and the "Final Cut" retrospective documentary that was released on the previous incarnation; H5 lacks "Inside Halloween 5" (another retrospective) and, of no real use to anyone but worth mentioning, the introduction by Harris and Ellie Cornell.
Some are carried over, however. In addition to the trailers, the H4 commentary by Harris and Cornell is still present, as is the Girard/Harris/Jeffrey Landman (Billy) track for 5. "Halloween 5: On The Set" is also ported over from the last release, which was a promo created in 1989 that shows some on-set interviews and behind the scenes footage (including a near fatal accident where the actress playing Tina tripped in front of the speeding car chasing her). Halloween 4 also still has the panel discussion where 4 and 5 are covered; a curious thing to bring back since it's completely outdated (it's from 2003) and their recollections are often completely wrong (Harris says the Man in Black was just some weird guy hanging out on set?).
So what's new? For Return, we have (finally!) an audio commentary by director Dwight Little, moderated by Justin Beahm, who is behind an upcoming book about the franchise. It's not the best track in the world; Little's recollections aren't as vivid as you might hope - for starters he seems to think Halloween III took place in the same universe, making his comment that he chose to ignore its characters and just pick up from part 2 a little odd. It's also marred by silence, as if Beahm was afraid to offer his own insight (or that he was unprepared for short answers from Little). But it's still better than the new track on Revenge with Beahm and Don Shanks (that film's Michael), which is even MORE silence-heavy. Sure, it's to be expected - why would he have much to say about scenes he wasn't even in? But again, Beahm doesn't really say anything on his own to cover the gaps - for someone who clearly loves the series I don't see why he didn't opt to offer up insight or even basic trivia to keep the conversation going. Shanks' recollections of who the Man In Black was also contradict everything that's been said before (including Shanks' own explanation on the last DVD), and he quite bizarrely claims the Man In Black in Halloween 6 was, well, a black man.
The only other "new" feature is another promo from 1989 about H5's production, which doesn't really distinguish itself from the sort of stuff on the "On The Set" one. Shanks speaks about shooting a scene depicting the carnage at the children's hospital, and at the police station, but none of that footage is seen here, nor is the legendary "Doctor Death" scene that we've only seen brief clips of over the years. So it seems to me that Anchor Bay is doing the same thing they did with their original DVD (and even VHS!) releases of these titles - doing a skimpy first release, and then going for the deluxe edition for a second go around. If you don't care about extras and haven't upgraded since their initial DVD releases (the ones in the collectible tins), then by all means upgrade to high def in time for the Halloween season if you like them enough, but otherwise, I have a sneaking suspicion you'll be seeing more expansive releases in another year. Of course, if you're like me and just blindly buy every release of these movies anyway, who cares? It's like your car registration - it's just something you have to pay for every year.
Film - 8/10
A/V - 9/10 (the original soundtrack mixes should be included)
Extras - 5/10
Film - 7/10
A/V - 9/10 (same reason as above)
Extras - 6/10