Avoid this incarnation of Season Of The Witch completely. Do not touch with a bargepole to use a UK expression. It's cut. Very badly too. More on that later.
After the first two Halloween films introduced (and killed off!) Michael Myers and Dr Loomis, John Carpenter's intention was to turn the franchise into an omnibus or anthology of different horror stories set around the theme of the Halloween festival. And each subsequent film was to be directed by a first-time director.
Unfortunately the Halloween III title and the film's tag-line, "The night nobody came home," presumably would have misled many people to believe that the film might include Myers once more and they were obviously disappointed. However, if you have another look at this film nowadays, you may be surprised to discover that it's not quite as bad as you had previously thought. Or you may still think it's a bag of wank!
Debra Hill described SOTW as a "pod" movie rather than a "knife" movie and that Invasion Of The Body Snatchers reference or comparison is a pretty close onto make here.
Having said that there are still many connections between the previous two Myers films and this one. It was directed by Tommy Lee Wallace who edited Halloween. Halloween appears on television sets twice in the picture. Nancy "Loomis" (Kyes) has a small part as a bitter ex-wife. SOTW was produced by Debra Hill and John Carpenter, and the score was also written by John together with Alan Howarth. The picture still features impressive photography by Dean Cundey, whose point-of-view shots (at the hospital) and the almost out-of-frame shots of the various henchmen seen throughout the film, certainly remind you of the same techniques being used for Michael Myers. Also, Dick Warlock (The Shape from Halloween II) appears as the "assassin" henchman seen at the hospital.
The film's highlight is actually the great title sequence with it's equally impressive throbbing score. Although I've always been rather taken with the point at which the film was ended, leaving it on an enjoyable cliffhanger. No doubt about it, the film is silly and it features lots of horror hokum but I could easily argue that it's no dafter than Michael Myers and Dr Loomis returning in Halloween 4 virtually unharmed. Despite the fact that they were both involved in an obviously fatal explosion at the end of Halloween 2! It's a pity that Carpenter's anthology idea for the series didn't take off 'cause (IMHO) the first two Halloween outings weren't matched by any of the later sequels. Leaving the Myers character alone would have resulted in Myers' screen presence never being weakened by the later poorer entries in the franchise.
SOTW features Tom Atkins as a likeable alcoholic doctor trying to discover why a toy-shop owner admitted to his hospital, was then brutally murdered by a suit wearing stranger, who then committed suicide shortly after. In a similar vein to In The Mouth Of Madness, Atkins and the toy-shop owner's daughter arrive at a strange US town (which the girl's father had visited just prior to his murder) to investigate further. They discover a sinister plan by a Halloween mask manufacturer to sacrifice thousands of children to appease what Halloween or Samhain was before it became a joyous celebration.
Yep, the plot here is so silly it almost defies belief. But that's nothing new in the horror genre. What (mostly) saves the film is the amusing performance from Dan O'Herlihy as the likeable villain and the mask factory owner. He relishes his screen time as this over-the-top James Bond type villain. What really let's the film down are factors such as the sets (lots and lots of flashing buttons on computers!) and daft moments such as unlocked doors and a far too easy escape by the hero. In fact, at times, it reminds you of a tv show such as The A-Team or The Man From Uncle! Luckily O'Herlihy's stellar performance and some moments of genuine creepiness or unpleasantness coupled with Cundey's usual excellent photography are enough to make the film worthwhile. But that's not enough to earn SOTW a better review mark than it gets here.
The screenplay was written by Nigel Kneale (best known for his Quatermass scripts), who insisted that his name be removed from the credits, after the plot was simplified and greater violence levels were introduced by Carpenter's and Wallace's re-writes. Watch Season Of The Witch as a stand-alone film and you may be surprised to discover that it's not actually as bad as you had originally thought.
Right, this is the bottom line. There are only 3 violent scenes in this whole picture. And 2 of those are missing completely from this current UK release. Which is why I shall be returning this DVD for a full refund or exchange this coming weekend. Frustratingly, SOTW was even always shown uncut on UK television so I have absolutely no idea why this version is missing two of the best scenes in the picture.
Missing (if found, please return):
- The toy shop owner's entire murder sequence! We see the assassin's fingers approach his victim's eyes and then he's wiping them on the hospital curtain. No face breaking or thrashing legs and feet are on display here.
- The woman who sets off the laser on one of the mask's "Silver Shamrock" microchip things. Remember how rank it looked to see her with her face peeled away, and the insect crawling out of her mouth? I hope you do 'cause that scene isn't included here either.
I can't understand why since SOTW even includes those two scenes when it's shown on UK television, never mind on the VHS or DVD releases. What's even worse is that this disc includes a commentary track by two British horror film buffs and writers. Supposedly... They even tell us that this version of the film is the most violent ever released in the UK.
Both these guys come across very well and provide an amusing commentary track that pokes some good fun at the movie as well as highlighting some of the better parts. But I do think that they should do some more research before making such strange claims. The DVD is only £10 in the stores and it's even cheaper if you look around. But who cares? It's a sloppy release since there is absolutely no reason why this film should be cut here. Why would I want to replace my uncut VHS version for a cut DVD version?
The same dvd company (Sanctuary Video Entertainment)has just released a Halloween II disc which suffers from particularly bad print quality (way too dark),so they're not impressing me at all here. We're even been given a 5.1 and 2.0 score here to go with our widescreen print of SOTW (a bit grainy but otherwise okay). And biographies and film production notes to go with that commentary track. But who cares?! There's no point providing extras for cut versions of films. Record this off the television, or if you really have to own this on DVD, buy the US incarnation instead.
Sanctuary Visual Entertainment. Remember this UK DVD company's name well. And avoid it. Just like you should with Vipco.