Oh, Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I do owe you a huge apology, don’t I? It was but ten years ago that I once included you in a list of the worst horror movies ever made, and, here I am now, singing your praises to anyone who will listen. Yes, it took the better part of three decades, but now I’ve finally learned to appreciate you – to love you, even. And it seems I’m not alone, as I’ve talked to several others who, like me, were once abhorred your very existence, only to have shared a similar awakening. From the ear-worm that is the Silver Shamrock commercial jingle (One more day till Halloween, Halloween, Halloween…) to the veritable feast of quotable dialogue – much of it courtesy of star and horror icon, Tom Atkins –Halloween III has gone from the red-headed stepchild of the Halloween franchise to a cult sensation. The folks at Scream Factory – the horror-centric offspring of fan favorite distributor, Shout! Factory – recognize this once-maligned film’s growing popularity with horror enthusiasts, and have given Halloween III: Season of the Witch a special edition Blu-ray presentation the film thoroughly deserves.
Opening with a signature Dean Cundey shot of a dim and deserted California highway, we soon see a shape emerge from the darkness. It’s an old man, obviously exhausted from running, clutching an orange Halloween mask by his side. Headlights appear in the distance, and the old man runs for cover in a nearby salvage yard where he’s ambushed by one of his pursuers – a strangely expressionless man dressed in a suit and leather gloves. After a brief struggle, the old man manages to kill the mysterious man in the suit, and then evades the others, making his way to a remote gas station further up the road. From here, he’s taken to a nearby hospital and admitted by Dr. Dan Challis (Atkins), to whom the old man –Harry Grimbridge - issues an ominous warning. Moments later, while Dan is resting in the doctor’s lounge, Harry is murdered in his room by another well-dressed man. Alerted by the screams of a nurse, Dan chases the killer to the hospital exit, where the man gets into his vehicle, douses himself in gasoline, and sets himself ablaze. The car explodes, leaving nothing behind but singed remains and a thoroughly shaken Dan.
Harry’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) - in town to identify her father’s body - tracks Dan down at the local bar, where she asks him what he saw that night. Dan tells her that he’s still not sure what he saw, but he’d sure as hell like to find out why it happened, and agrees to help Ellie retrace her father’s footsteps leading up to the night of his murder. Ellie looks at her father’s record book and finds that the last entry predates a trip to pick up more of the phenomenally popular Halloween masks manufactured at the Silver Shamrock Novelty factory in nearby Santa Mira. Dan and Ellie decide to pay the factory a visit under the guise of “buyers”, where they meet Silver Shamrock’s founder, Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) – a legendary artisan of tricks and treats who, the soon discover, has saved his best trick for last.
Feeling as though the Michael Myers story had reached its logical conclusion at the end of Halloween II (he was blown up, after all), producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill came up with a concept for an annual series of completely self-contained (and non-Myers related) scare films released under the Halloween banner. Executive producers, Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad, hated the idea, but Carpenter and Hill somehow made it stick, and, working from a script by legendary screenwriter, Nigel Kneale (later to be polished up by director, Tommy Lee Wallace), Halloween III: Season of the Witch went into production. The resulting film was poorly received, with audiences and critics, alike, bemoaning the absence of the masked killer from the series’ first two installments, and the film looked to be the death knell of the burgeoning franchise.
Still, Halloween III was not completely without its share of supporters, and, over time, the fan base grew, recognizing it for the scary, semi-satirical love letter to classic horror/sci-fi flicks it was. And, while many feel it would have been better served had the film eschewed the Halloween moniker altogether, there is no doubt that this film shares more than just its predecessors’ DNA. From Dean Cundey’s Panavision cinematography to the Spartan electric score (by Carpenter and Alan Howarth), to director, Wallace – the production designer on both the original Halloween and The Fog – Carpenter and Hill had assembled virtually the same crew used on the previous Halloween films, and helped to shape a film that, in terms of sights and sounds, is very much in keeping with the original.
Now, back in 1982, none of this meant a damned thing to me, as I, like so many others, went (ie; snuck in) to the theater expecting more Michael Myers. My twelve year old mind was not capable of comprehending what it was that Carpenter, Hill, and Wallace were hoping to achieve, and, feeling thoroughly duped, I’d written the film off, revisiting it only once (in a choppily edited late night television broadcast in the late eighties) before rediscovering the film nearly twenty years later on a poorly cropped 2001 Good Times DVD (which I purchased as something of a lark). It was here that I was finally able to separate the film from Michael Myers, and truly appreciate it for the homage to 50s Sci-fi (most notably, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) it was.
Wallace’s direction, paired with Cundey’s keen eye for composition, helps to generate some serious suspense, as well as a few really great jump scares, all punctuated by Carpenter and Howarth’s minimalist score. Meanwhile, Tom Atkins lends the flawed hero, Dan, the same machismo and affability that has made him a horror icon, while a gloriously scene-chewing O’Herlihy creates a protagonist that manages to be both terrifying and a touch tragic; a man whose disdain for the commercialism of Halloween – a holiday his people hold sacred – has driven him to this mad act. Yes, it’s still pretty silly stuff, filled with groan-inducing dialogue, some fairly stiff performances (oh, Stacey Nelkin, at least you had your looks), and veritable sieve’s worth of holes in the story, but, for what it lacks in smarts it more than makes up for in scares, mood, and style. In other words, it’s a great flick for Halloween!
Scream Factory releases Halloween III: Season of the Witch on a special edition Blu-ray, which, like the simultaneously released Halloween II, features gorgeous custom artwork on the reversible cover (the original poster art is on the other side), as well as a bevy of extra goodies within.
The film is presented in its native 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with a transfer that offers an absolutely stunning amount of fine detail. The image is crisp, remarkably clean, and vibrant, with rich, deep blacks that lend an almost tangible sense of depth and dimension to the picture. The image retains a welcome amount of cinematic grain throughout, giving the whole shebang a pleasingly filmic aesthete. The wonderful transfer is complimented by a very effective 2.0 Master Audio soundtrack that, while not as expressive or immersive as the 5.1 track included with Halloween II, is more than satisfactory, and more in keeping with the film’s original mono soundtrack origins.
Extras include a pair of great commentary tracks, the first featuring director, Wallace, as well as Icons of Fright’s Robert V. Galluzo, and Horror’s Hallowed Ground’s Sean Clark, while the second track features star, Atkins, as well as Michael Felsher, the producer who oversaw the creation of this release. Both commentaries are chock-full of anecdotes, humor, and factoids that make them both recommended listens.
Stand Alone: The Making of Halloween III (HD) offers a fairly comprehensive look at the production of the film, featuring candid interviews with Wallace, Atkins, Yablans, and other principals. As with his interviews on the Halloween II documentary, Yablans is particularly frank about his feelings regarding Halloween III, while Wallace and Atkins are both exceptionally humbled by the fact that the film has been given a second life thanks to home viewing. It’s a great watch, and especially refreshing given the fact that so many retrospectives like this tend to offer little more than good vibes and mutual admiration.
Sean Clark returns with another episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (HD), taking us through the locales that stood in for places like the fictional town of Santa Mira (where Clark almost comes to blows with what appears to be a surly meth-addict), the Silver Shamrock Factory, and other key locations.
Rounding out the extras are a stills gallery, as well as a collection of radio and TV spots for the film.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen Halloween III, I urge you to revisit this oft-maligned and sorely misunderstood film, but do so with an open mind! Scream Factory’s excellent Blu-ray presentation offers a fantastic transfer, great audio, and a wonderful collection of extras that will go a long way toward helping fans on the fence about the film learn to appreciate it even more. Highly recommended!