Shout! Factory // 1982 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // September 6th, 2012
The night nobody comes home.
Back in 1982, producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill had little interest in making yet another sequel to their huge slasher hit Halloween. Under great strain, the duo had eked out Halloween II, and they were not happy with the artistic results, despite great box office returns. The second installment had supposedly killed off boogeyman Michael Myers and let virginal Laurie Strode get away scathed, but in one piece. Their story was done, and Carpenter's team wanted to find a way to make the Halloween series into an annual anthology offering a different movie every year connected only by the theme of the October holiday. Season of the Witch was to be the first of many variations, but its poor box office and outcry from fans insured that Michael Myers made his return when the series picked up six years later. This third chapter is all that remains of what could have been, if Carpenter and Hill had pulled it off and found a way to have Halloween every year without their most iconic creation. It almost killed off the horror franchise, but it was a stylish reboot that gets points for effort and creativity.
A doctor with a drinking problem (Tom Atkins, The Fog) tries to help a young girl (Stacey Nelkin, Bullets Over Broadway) find out why her father was killed after picking up a shipment of Halloween masks to sell at his retail store. The trail leads them to a novelty company run in a sleepy California town that seems to be cornering the market on kids costumes. It's run by a creepy old Irishman (Dan O'Herlihy, The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe) who has many tricks up his sleeve including killer masks, a gang of robotic assassins, and a vital piece of Stonehenge to cast the perfect spell. Happy Halloween!
This one is an old hoary drive-in flick firmly planted in B-movie territory. It is oddly paced, never makes a lick of sense, but comes off slick enough to fool you into thinking it is doing more than it is. Halloween III: Season of the Witch looks and feels like John Carpenter directed, although honors for that went to his Halloween production designer and editor Tommy Lee Wallace (It). Director of photography Dean Cundey showed up behind the lens again, and he kept the night scenes blue and as dramatic as the ones he did for the first in the series. The composition makes full use of the widescreen format, and there is an ever-so-creepy electronic score from Carpenter and Alan Howarth to punctuate all the jump scares. Unfortunately, due to some early script disagreements, original author Nigel Kneale (The Quatermass Experiment) parted ways with the production leaving John Carpenter and Tommy Lee Wallace to flesh out the final story from a rough draft. That may have been the death of Halloween III, because the film looks great and has a solid cast, but suffers from several plot and logic holes that just keep the thing from being entirely successful. Well that, and the fact that Michael Myers only shows up in a couple of TV commercials in the film.
Interestingly enough, this is a sequel that dares to ditch every single bit of the films that came before it -- making this a rare breed of horror movie -- but there are still some stamps in there to remind us where we are. There are plenty of sly allusions to Halloween, including putting both Michael Myers and Laurie Strode on screen at various times whenever the characters are watching television. When the bad guy reveals his plot, he does so with the familiar John Carpenter score playing behind him from the television. Jamie Lee Curtis voices any announcement you hear in the fictional Santa Mira town, and she also becomes the phone operator whenever you try to dial out. Dick Warlock, who played Michael Myers in part two, is featured as one of the henchmen wearing no mask and a crisp suit. Nancy Kyes or Loomis, who played Annie in Halloween and Halloween II, shows up as the harpy wife of the Tom Atkins character. It shouldn't go unnoticed either that the town is called Santa Mira which is the same locale that the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers took place in. Halloween III certainly set out to tip its hat to the films that came before it.
I still have a fondness for Season of the Witch because it tries to do something unique. John Carpenter and his team never settled for one genre, often wildly switching gears from project to project. The only time he did slasher truly was with the first Halloween, then seemed to move to the ghost story of The Fog, and then the sci-fi stomach-turner of The Thing. This particular story tries to blend in the "pod people" approach of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Stepford Wives and marry that with a story about the computer age meeting a modern witch. It is horror, fantasy, and sci-fi mixed all together in one ambitious project. Halloween III: Season of the Witch never gels as a coherent movie, but it is a ton of fun to watch, regardless. If you can remove yourself from it being a sequel to Halloween it is a fun early '80s horror romp that has solid performances and some truly creepy moments that work on their own merits. It's more trick than treat, but ultimately that doesn't stop this one from being something audiences can enjoy at the right time of the season.
Shout! Factory has given fans reason to cheer this year with this release of Halloween III: Season of the Witch on Blu-ray, because for the first time it is getting royal treatment. For many years the best way to experience the film was on a shoddy Good Times DVD that was bare bones and missing a few audio cues for no apparent reason. Here we get a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen treatment with corrected color timing and rich detail. The high definition hues really pop, and for the first time the film looks better than it did in 1982, with all of Dean Cundey's work back intact and correctly shaded. Black levels are spot on, adding much to the feel and atmosphere of the film. The audio is high definition, but in keeping with the film's original release, is given a two-channel mono treatment without any hiss or distortion. There are no visual errors or digital noise outside of one or two forgivable moments when something pixelates for a brief second. It can look soft at times, but overall they have achieved the near impossible. The picture has depth and vibrancy for the first time in thirty years.
Special features include not one but two audio commentaries. First up is director Tommy Lee Wallace joined by Horror Hound hosts Sean Clark and Rob G, who keep things moving at a breakneck pace, revealing a ton about the production along the way. The second discussion is slower paced with lead actor Tom Atkins in a discussion with making-of guru Michael Felsher. There is a thirty minute look behind the scenes called "Stand Alone: The Making of Halloween III: Season of the Witch." It includes interviews with all the key players from cast and crew, except for a notably absent John Carpenter who is seen only in still shots. But it does seem like they managed to get everybody else in there that had anything to do with the film, including a surprisingly-still-fetching Stacey Nelkin. Next up is a twenty-minute featurette focusing on the locations of the film, with Sean Clark and Tommy Lee Wallace visiting most of them. All the marketing material is here, as well, including teaser trailers, radio spots, theatrical trailers, and even still galleries. This is as exhaustive as it is ever going to get on this film, and it is an impressive feast of insight and trivia.
If there is anything that might throw off your experience of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Blu-ray), it is that the detail is so spot on that you may notice some of the special effects being not as special as you remembered them. Sometimes a little added clarity will reveal a dummy here or a wax figure there, but then perhaps that is part of the fun of going back to old b-movies decades later. The seams show just a bit more, and the creaky, campy fun shows its hand now and then.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a misguided sequel that may have done better to ditch the Halloween trademark name altogether. Perhaps had it been allowed to stand alone it would have been recalled more fondly, but certainly the film has found a nice cult audience that enjoys the fact that it is the only one to not feature a man in overalls out to kill any baby-sitter related to him. It deserves credit for trying to reinvent the genre again with a maniacal Irish warlock who entertains a James Bond villain plan to rid the world of children on October 31st. It owes more to Invasion of the Body Snatchers than the slasher films that followed suit from the original Halloween. This installment never quite lives up to the promise that it is going to show us "witchcraft in the computer age," but does manage to wrangle out creepy moments that allow the film its own place in Halloween history. It is the failed experiment, but remains one of the most interesting chapters in the franchise for not following that easy road that so many took after the original success. Shout! Factory gives fans a major treat this year, and shows the big studios how to treat a cult property right. This is the Blu-ray edition to own this year if you're looking for a brilliant transfer and all the extras you could ever dream of wanting.
Guilty of looking for a different Halloween altogether.
Review content copyright © 2012 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* TV/Radio Spots
* Image Gallery