Halloween III: Season of the Witch Blu-ray Review
Written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace
1982, Region A, 98 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on September 18th, 2012
Tom Atkins as Dr. Dan Challis
Stacey Nelkin as Ellie
Dan O'Herlihy as Conal Cochran
Silver Shamrock is a company that makes toys, masks and novelty items (like sticky toilet paper). This year they are offering something special with a trio of new disguises known as the Halloween Three: masks of a witch, a skull and a jack-o-lantern that are the key to unlocking the mystery of the big giveaway on Halloween night. Kids are encouraged to wear their masks and watch a special program during the annual horror-thon. There is a commercial in heavy rotation featuring an infectious jingle to the tune of London Bridge, and during this last week before the holiday it seems that if a television is on, so is this ad campaign.
Dan Challis is a doctor at the local hospital where a recent murder-suicide has upset the sleepy routine of this quiet community. He soon finds himself joining Ellie, the daughter of the murder victim on a search for answers in the company town of Santa Mira, where all eyes are upon them. Taking up residence in a local motel, Ellie and Challis meet a few colorful visitors including Buddy Kupfer and family, here to reap the rewards of having sold the most masks of any retailer in the country. Soon, everyone meets Conal Cochran, a man with a warm smile and a sinister plan. Halloween’s big televised treat may result in the deaths of viewers across the country unless Dr. Challis can stop him.
Director John Carpenter pitched a lucrative idea to the suits at Universal studios involving an anthology project that would create a different horror film every year that focused on the many aspects of the Halloween holiday. Each idea would be a stand-alone piece that could spin off in any direction through countless sequels. The studio passed on the idea, instead opting for a direct follow-up to the babysitter murders of the original Halloween. When Halloween II brought back Michael Myers and his supporting cast of victims, a precedent was set and a franchise born. Halloween III was inevitable, so Carpenter agreed to move forward as a producer, but insisted on using fresh material in a story directly inspired by Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The film was marketed exactly as the first two and fans were duped into believing they were going to see Jamie Lee Curtis (Prom Night) screaming for her life as countless bystanders get stabbed by that guy in the mask. Had this new film simply been called Season of the Witch, it likely would never have been made, yet by tagging it with the franchise moniker it was destined to piss people off, no matter how well it was crafted. You can’t advertise steak and deliver a cold lard omelet. Instead of a slasher film, audiences were treated to a tale of witchcraft in the computer age, filled with themes railing against consumerism and conformity…the nerve!
Over the years the movie has developed a bit of a cult following as audiences have come to appreciate the many positive aspects of the story. Tom Atkins (Night of the Creeps) stars as the most opportunistic horn-dog of a man who abandons his family and workload to step out with a grief-stricken woman half his age. The fact that he can make this unbelievably flawed protagonist likeable is a testimony to Atkins strengths as an actor. Stacey Nelkin (Yellowbeard) brings a lot of doe-eyed innocence to the role of Ellie, as she falls under the spell of Atkins’ charismatic mustache. The real star of this picture is Dan O’ Herlihy (Robocop, Twin Peaks) as the sinister Cochran. His performance is stunning as he delivers some of the most diabolical monologues heard outside of a James Bond adventure.
Director Tommy Lee Wallace (Stephen King’s IT) does his best to keep things moving as the mystery unfolds at a pretty decent clip. There are a few elements that come off a bit chintzy, but the film has some nice scares and more than enough memorable set-pieces. Working from a script by Nigel Kneale (Quatermass) and John Carpenter, Wallace created a third draft and somehow managed to receive sole credit for the screenplay, an honor he continues to protest. Cinematographer Dean Cundy (Back to the Future) returns for the third time to the franchise and his work is gorgeous as always. He fills the widescreen frame with information on all edges and paints with alternate amounts of brilliant lights and crushing black shadows.
Some aspects of the plot invite some spoiler questions like if the world as we know it is going to be essentially destroyed on Halloween night, why are the robots still working at Stonehenge? Why are there so many racks of masks and unsold boxes sitting inside the final processing lair?
Shouldn’t there be a sales deadline? How is the nationwide campaign affected by time zones? What phone number does Dan call that can get the ad pulled off all three major networks with just his crazy rambling? If Challis blew up the control center, then aren’t audiences going to be left watching only the jingle without the deadly payoff?
Some useless trivia that not everyone may notice: Jamie Lee Curtis is the voice of the curfew announcer throughout the town. She also can be heard as the computer voice in Escape from New York. Actress Nancy Loomis appears in all three installments of this original trilogy, as Annie in Halloween and Halloween II, and here she plays Dr. Challis’ frumpy nagging ex-wife. Director John Carpenter recycled many of the themes from Halloween III a few years later in his more successful offering They Live.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch died a humiliating death at the box office and is not completely without fault, but it doesn’t deserve the decades of grief it has received from Michael Myers fans. To be fair, this is quite a nasty little film that explores the darker side of the Halloween holiday and deserves a better shake than it initially received. With this 30th anniversary special edition, Shout! Factory has delivered a nice present to the fans who have supported this film, just in time for the spooky holiday season. Grab your masks, pop some popcorn and turn out the lights…and don’t forget the big giveaway at 9p!
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the film looks as great as it possibly can without a full restoration. The picture has undergone a slight tweaking, eliminating dirt and scratches present on the earlier DVD releases. Flesh tones remain accurate and black levels are solid without any bleeding. There is a surprising amount of detail found in small objects including the Silver Shamrock masks.
Shout! Factory offers a solid DTS HD 2.0 lossless audio track that preserves the original stereo mix. Sure, a 5.1 re-master would be welcome, but this presentation is clean and clear. Dialogue is never buried under music or effects and fans will be happy to know that the ever-present jingle for the Silver Shamrock Company is guaranteed to be stuck in their heads from now until Halloween.
Shout! Factory delivers another solid package delivered with plenty of treats for the kids. First up, are a pair of audio commentaries that are both well worth a listen.
The first track finds director Tommy Lee Wallace joined by Rob G (Icons of Fright) and Shawn Clark (Horror’s Hallowed Grounds) for a relaxed conversation about the making of the film. Despite having two moderators, Wallace is allowed to fall into the trap of silently watching the movie. There is plenty of information shared throughout, but the gaps could have easily been filled with tales from Wallace’s other experiences as a director.
The second track is far more engaging and satisfying as actor Tom Atkins (Lethal Weapon) reflects on his career with Michael Felsher (Red Shirt Pictures). Little time is wasted as Atkins is filled with stories and more than happy to share them. After listening to this track there is little doubt that Atkins’ reputation as a fantastic individual will remain unchallenged. The guy honestly seems grateful for any fan he has and pleased to learn that people enjoy his work.
A 30-minute featurette titled Stand Alone: The Making of Halloween III: Season of the Witch offers new interviews with the filmmakers offering honest opinions of how the marketing of the film was handled and numerous anecdotes from the making of the picture, including their thoughts on the nerve-wracking commercial jingle. This is a fast-moving piece that includes appearances by Tommy Lee Wallace, Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin and many others.
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds creator Shawn Clark visits the original shooting locations for the film and is joined by a surprise guest. It is interesting to see how radically different some spots look, while others remain mostly unchanged after three decades.
A set of theatrical trailers and TV spots round out the special features on this disc.
*Note: The screenshots on this page are not a reflection of the Blu-ray image. They were captured using the standard DVD.*