Horror sequels are often rightly seen as synonymous with junk cinema. By definition they are formulaic. Worse, from the perspective of cineastes’, they are generally studio cash cows. A successful franchise will pull in dollars on films quickly and cheaply produced, especially when they hit DVD.
It is sequels, maybe more than any other factor, that have led to horror films inhabiting a niche somewhere between porn and low budget action films in the low-archy of bad taste.
No one’s mind will be changed with the release of Halloween 4 and Halloween 5 on blu-ray. Although important for completists of the series, neither film has much to commend it. Weak special features make this an even more unfortunate release, taking away the pleasure of horror fans that might want to memorialize even the low points of the series with various documentary goodies.
Of these two releases, Halloween 4 represents the slightly passable effort. Its billed as the Return of Michael Myers , itself an important effort in a series that used its third film to tell the story of an evil conspiracy to kill the world’s children with exploding Halloween masks. Having our lunatic with a knife back feels comforting in the extreme after such an epic fail of a concept. Meanwhile, Donald Pleasence as “Dr. Loomis”, Van Helsing to Michael Myers’ Dracula, brings at least a touch of class to the proceedings.
Some of the elements that made the first film such a breakthrough are back. The opening shot evokes the nostalgia of Halloween, a holiday already full of dark symbolism. Carpenter’s original film had made the holiday infinitely creepier by combining implied threat with childhood hopes for full bags of candy and dead leaves blowing in the fall wind. Halloween 4 slightly evoked Carpenter’ original genius.
Unfortunately, the loss of Carpenter’s sure hand makes a mess of the film. Carpenter told a simply story of a unstoppable killer (‘the Shape”) who came to town to kill teenagers on Halloween night. Halloween 4 and Halloween 5 attempt to unwind a mythology of the Myers family, with Michael back in town to kill “Jamie” (Laurie Strode’s daughter) for reasons that are unclear. All of this is mashed together with an inability to stick with what works: Unstoppable killer, terrorized town.
Halloween 5 has its moments for fans of the series but also produces its share of the wrong kind of groans of horror. It opens where four, almost, leaves off. This makes much of the first 30 minutes feel like unused footage from the previous film.
Halloween 5 uses and abuses the concept of Jaimie having a psychic connection of some kind to Myers. This trope appeared in almost every single ‘80s slasher franchise, from Friday the 13th t o Nightmare on Elm Street. Why is hard to understand, given the amount of hared that horror fans have had for the conceit. It’s possibly just a feature of not really knowing what to do with the narrative once a couple of sequels have spilled blood.
Donald Pleasence shows up again for five. He has less presence than in previous outings and seems exhausted. Here his Dr. Loomis seems screechy and exhausted, mouthing things about the depth of evil and the nothingness in Michael Myers eyes and face. It’s like watching Pleasence trying to get into character on the worst day of his storied career. And of course maybe that’s exactly what we are doing.
The narrative itself is a spaghetti junction of a mess, introducing stories of missing dogs, teenage romance, Myers living with some inexplicable person who has a home underground and, of course, Pleasence wandering around in empty houses saying things like “Michael, have you come home.” Halloween 5 also contains the infamous appearance of the “man in the steel toed boot” whose meaning is never explained, apparently some foreshadowing of a narrative that was to never be. This at least shows the filmmakers were brimming with confidence about the future.
Of all the sins committed by this film, perhaps the worst has to do with the audio mix and soundtrack. In a truly bizarre decision, two cops are used for comic relief and a kind of whirligig keystone cops theme accompanies their appearance. This more or less destroys the experience of the next hour, insuring that whatever tension the film had perhaps hoped to produce has fled.
The Blu-ray transfer itself looks good, especially given that the print sources for these unloved films have to be limited. Please note that this is no digital restoration and you are unlikely to experience dramatic differences. The audio transfer has perhaps some added complexity but there are no radical changes to a mix that had little to commend it in the original.
The special features are very weak. On the disc for four, we are given a short discussion panel with Daniel Harris and several other character actors from the twin movies. This is actually hard to watch since so much of the focus is on how the panelists weren’t really working after four and five. At another unfortunate point, an audience member asks Harris if her character was named in homage to Jaimie Lee Curtis, a rather obvious “yes.” No, she asserts, but then adds that maybe it was ironic.
The commentary tracks are of little interest given that the films themselves don’t inspire much response from us. The disc for Halloween 5 contains a very short “On the Set” feature.
Notably, Halloween seven and eight drops this entire storyline. Laurie Strode’s given a son in Halloween seven and the story of Rachel and Jamie disappears forever. This perhaps offers final proof that four and five represented wrong turns in the series, moments in the life of a classic monster’s story best forgotten. These transfers are only for those most dedicated of Halloween fans.